Behind One of The Nature Conservancy's Largest Ever Forest Purchases
Even for the Nature Conservancy, which attracts more money than any other US environmental nonprofit – revenues were $1.1bn last year – buying 165,000 acres of land in Washington’s Cascade Mountains and Montana’s Blackfoot River Valley for $134m is, quite literally, a very big deal.
To raise the money in a timely manner and to negotiate the acquisition, which closed last week, the conservancy relied on NatureVest. Launched last spring, NatureVest is a division of the conservancy that functions much like a bank, albeit a bank whose purpose is to protect nature.
NatureVest raises money from institutions and high-net-worth individuals who care about the environment but want to get their investment back, perhaps with a modest return. It then invests that money in conservation projects – land acquisitions, sustainable ranching, green infrastructure or eco-tourism – that can generate money so it can pay back its investors.
In 2014, The Nature Conservancy initiated a collaborative conservation project, dubbed the Great Western Checkerboard Project, which will preserve recreational access and help conserve the ecological integrity of 165,073 acres (257 square miles) of forests, rivers and wildlife habitat in the eastern Cascade Mountain Range of Washington and in the Blackfoot River Valley in Montana. Through NatureVest, The Conservancy is using interim financing to acquire the lands from the Plum Creek Timber Company, including 47,921 acres in the Yakima River Headwaters in Washington and 117,152 acres in the Lower Blackfoot River Watershed in Montana.