The Conservation Fund (“the Fund”) addresses the question of how to blend a capitalist society and the conservation challenges in America that calls out for innovative and enduring solutions. 

The Fund provides the capital to finance conservation, and ensures that the economic fabrics of communities are thoroughly woven into in the process.  We work by forging strong partnerships with nonprofits, corporations and government: “Those are the three sectors you need to bring together and balance in everything you do in this great nation,” Noonan said. “And once you get that balance in place, then you can truly make things happen."

The Fund's first completed project was in Lake Champlain, VT, where it saved 1,245 (+) acres of critical open space within the Lake Champlain viewshed.

ORIGINS IN ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND ECONOMIC VITALITY: 1985 - 1990

1985
The Conservation Fund was founded in 1985, when Patrick Noonan, recipient of a MacArthur Foundation 'genius' award, created a nimble, entrepreneurial nonprofit organization that would bring environmental protection and economic vitality together as a mutually-reinforcing, necessary path forward for America. Among his co-founders was Richard Erdmann, who remains Executive Vice President of the Fund and leads all aspects of the Fund's conservation acquisitions and strategic direction.

1986
A grant of $30,000 from the Sacharuna Foundation, the Fund dedicated the Springs Project, a demonstration project to protect important natural springs in the Shenandoah Valley for scientific and educational purposes.

1987
We established our Revolving Fund, which ensures that 100 percent of every dollar invested in the Revolving Fund would be used to acquire important conservation lands.  The Spring and Groundwater Institute in Shepherdstown, WV was approved and built.

1988
We worked with a team of researchers, compiling to an analysis of the Civil War Battlefields that were most at risk for development and needed to be protected. We also began working with the Richard King Mellon Foundation (RKMF) on its precedent-setting effort to augment the work of America’s public conservation agencies.

1990
The President’s Commission on America’s Outdoors recommended the creation of a national network of greenways. The Fund responded, partnering with Kodak and National Geographic to create the Kodak American Greenways Program. That same year, The Spring and Groundwater Institute built a sophisticated water testing lab to monitor ground water conditions with the help of an $800,000 grant from the U.S.D.A. Our first newsletter, Common Ground, was launched.

Our Civil War Battlefield Guide was published to support the campaign to protect these historic battlefields sites and to help the public understand their importance. By the year’s end, 50,000 copies were sold. In addition, to begin its American Land Conservation Program, RKMF gave a $21 million gift to the nation to conserve nationally significant lands.

Turner Appointed President as Key Programs Initiated: 1991- 2000

1991
John Turner, who had been the director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, was appointed President of the Fund. With support from RKMF, the Fund launched its the Resourceful Communities Program in North Carolina to preserve the rural landscape, lift people out of poverty and celebrate the state’s unique culture. That year the Fund also launched its Mitigation Banking Program, which identifies and acquires mitigation property  property of equal environmental value to replace wildlife habitat lost to development. And, to reflect its broadened scope with initiatives such as family farm aquaculture, The Spring and Groundwater Institute was renamed “The Freshwater Institute.” 

1992—1993
International Paper donated 15,300 acres of forestland in New York’s Adirondack Mountains to us. The Fund began using GIS (geographic information system) to plan strips of undeveloped land set aside for recreational use or environmental protection, known as “greenways.” The Fund purchased Glorieta Battlefield, a Civil War battlefield in Pecos National Historic Park in New Mexico, to save it from development? Last but not least, the Fund established the Land Trust Loans program, which provides bridge financing and short-term loans to nonprofit land conservation organizations across the nation to accelerate the pace of conservation at the local level.  


1994
We helped secure the National Wildlife Refuge System’s 500th refuge in Canaan Valley, West Virginia. Our Conservation Leadership Network helped develop the curriculum for nonprofit and corporate participation in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) new National Center for Conservation Leadership. We also partnered with Douglas County, Colorado and Great Outdoors Colorado to safeguard  a 35,000-acre tract along Interstate 25 between Denver and Colorado Springs from future development.

1995
After 10 successful  years of accomplishment and growth, the Fund celebrated the protection of its first million acres in 1995. We also saved 5,500 acres of battlefields in 10 states as part of our Civil War Battlefield Campaign, and helped launch the Great Lakes Watershed Initiative to help combat nonpoint source pollution.

We also helped the USFWS secure more than 210,000 acres of high-priority brown bear and Pacific salmon habitat in Alaska’s Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, obtained with $86.5 million from the Exxon Valdez oil spill restoration funds. In addition, we established a high-level advisory panel, bringing together leaders from many different backgrounds to address the conservation challenges of the 21st century.

1996—1997
The Fund and its partners protected 24,000 acres in the Chesapeake Bay and more than 40,000  acres within Louisiana’s Lake Ponchartrain Basin. We worked with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to protect 20 miles of canyon-country views in a 3, 500-acre strip along the Salmon River in Idaho, which had been the most unprotected accessible segment of the waterway. Our Freshwater Institute celebrated its tenth anniversary.

1998
Partnering with state resource agencies, the Fund protected 55,420 acres of open space area in 1998 and, working with federal agencies, saved more than 200,000 acres of significant wildlife habitat from Colorado to Florida. We adopted three demonstration forests in New York, Vermont and Maryland, becoming the first nonprofit conservation organization in the American Forest and Paper Association’s Sustainable Forestry Initiative.  

1999
We purchased 296,000 acres in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire from Champion International—the largest sale of northeast woodlands in more than a decade. This purchase protected wildlife and working forests for generations, and served as the concept for the Fund’s eventual Working Forest Fund. In North Carolina, the Fund protected Palmetto Peartree Preserve in North Carolina, uniting  sustainable forestry, ecotourism and critical habitat protection with a single stroke. We also established the Green Infrastructure program, which trains communities and their partners in making green infrastructure an integral part of local and regional plans and decisions.

2000
The U.S. Congress reauthroized the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA in 2000 as part of the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA). As a result, we began protecting George Washington’s boyhood home, Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia, which was also  the site of Union artillery emplacements during the Civil War.

 

Larry Selzer Appointed President, Enhances Entrepreneurial Approach: 2001 - 2010

2001
Larry Selzer was named President and CEO of the Conservation Fund. Holding both an MBA and a degree in Environmental Studies, Selzer exemplifies the Fund’s mission to bring the entrepreneurial spirit to conservation, launch efforts to seed small green businesses, manage working forests and improve the integration of economic and environmental goals. 

The Fund set up the Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF) in 2001, which provides debt and equity financing and technical assistance to small businesses with the dual missions of land and water conservation and economic development. Last but not least, in 2001 we also introduced our Carbon Sequestration Program, which provides cost-effective methods for the private sector to address climate change and loss of wildlife habitat. 

2002
The Richard King Mellon Foundation underwrote the Fund’s largest conservation gift since its founding in 1985—nearly 34,000 acres on the Alaska Peninsula. This land was transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a crowning achievement in the foundation's American Land Conservation Program. The Fund also collaborated with leading African-Americans to establish the first African American land trust: The Black Family Land Trust taps conservation dollars and techniques to help stem the loss of African American landownership.

The Fund also worked with American Indians in Colorado to protect sacred tribal lands at the center of the Sand Creek Massacre site, and—with support from the Stewart Mott Foundation—established the Great Lakes Revolving Fund.

2003
Charles Jordan, the first African-American city commissioner in Portland, Oregon, was elected Chairman of the Fund's Board of Trustees. Mr. Jordan, who passed away in 2014, had a long and distinguished career in city parks and urban planning. With support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, in 2003 the Fund launched the Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat Initiative, safeguarding  40,000 acres of critical habitat. We acquired 165 acres of company -owned land in the Flight 93 crash site in Pennsylvania, which later became a National Memorial. Thanks to grants from the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and USDA’s Rural Development Program, the NCIF doubled its financing capabilities and expanded its investment funding.

2004
We protected the first parcel of land—680 acres—in Big Thicket National Preserve in southwest Texas. We also helped expand public recreation areas for the Fort Clatsop National Memorial in Oregon—ithe only National Park Service site dedicated solely to the Lewis and Clark expedition. In 2004 as well, we led a partnership that purchased 24,000 acres of critical habitat and forests along California’s Garcia River. The Fund launched Go Zero in 2005, a program that allows everyone, including individuals and small communities, to measure and offset carbon dioxide emissions. The Fund also completed its largest land deal ever—851,000 acres on the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

2006
Working with our partners, we established the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. As part of our Go Zero Program, which evolved from our carbon sequestration program, we planted its first tree as Bogue Chiito National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana and Mississippi. We also purchased 320 acres in of Hurricane Katrina-damaged land in Hancock County, Mississippi, to restore and rehabilitate. Finally, we secured 130 acres next to the Minidoka National Historic Site in Jerome County, Idaho, to educate the public and commemorate the hardships suffered by more than 9,000 Japanese Americans at the internment camp during WWII.

2007
We saved the largest and most historically prized 100 acres within the Brandywine Battlefield Historic Landmark, one of the most important battlefields of the Revolutionary War. During this same year, the Conservation Leadership Network worked with more than 1,800 community leaders through conservation courses and training programs, while  Resourceful Communities engaged nearly 500 business, community and government partners in its their triple bottom-line approach—sustainable economic development, social justice and environmental stewardship

2008
Attorney, nonprofit champion and conservationist from Atlanta, Georgia, Rutherford Seydel was elected Chairman of the Fund's Board of Directors. The Fund also completed its smallest project to date—Vine City Park in Atlanta, Georgia, a 0.09-acre pocket park. Working with Nisource and USFWS, we began planning mitigation solutions for a 15,500-mile natural gas pipeline.  Again with the USFWS, we also took our first steps to protect Rocky Fork, privately owned land with the largest stretch of unfragmented forestland in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

2009
The Fund launched its Working Forest Fund program, a dedicated source of conservation capital that now allowed us to acquire and sustainably manage working forest with high conservation value, saving them from inappropriate development. With funding from Fred and Alice Stanback, we also purchased a three-mile crest of Rebecca Mountain in Georgia, which lengthened the Pinhoti Trail and allowed it to connect to the Appalachian Trail.

 

With Projects Large and Small, the Fund Focuses on Impact: 2010 - present 

2010
Go Zero planted the one-millionth tree in Missouri’s Mingo National Wildlife Refuge. We launched the Shade Fund to provide small loans to promising green entrepreneurs across America through tax- deductible contributions. And we celebrated the fact that, through the Kodak American Greenways Program, $800,000 had been granted to 700 organizations in all 50 states.

2011
We helped the National Park Service acquire 5,500 acres of mixed-grass prairie and ponderosa pine forest to expand the Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.  Designated by Teddy Roosevelt in 1903, Wind Cave was the seventh National Park and the first one created to protect a cave. To many in the Native American Lakota tribe, Wind Cave is the sacred spot in their oral creation story.

2012
With a $400,000 W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant, we began helping minority farmers increase their crop production, store produce and sell food year-round at farmers markets in 11 Michigan counties. The Fund donated a 480-acre property at the heart of Harriet Tubman National Monument to the National Park Service—including the former home site of Jacob Jackson, a “free black” who helped Tubman rescue her brothers in a dramatic escape. In 2014, President Obama named the site a National Park.

Thanks to a gift from Mt. Cuba Center, the Fund helped purchase the historic 1,100-acre Woodlawn property in Delaware and donated it to the National Park Service. In 2014, President Obama designated the site Delaware’s first National Historical Park. Finally, more than 140 years after America’s first national park was created, all 50 states are represented in our park system.
 
2013—2014
More than 4,000 acres were added to Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, completing our 186th project with the National Park Service. 

To keep beaches open to the public on Lake Michigan, the Fund hired four dogs saved from shelters and trained to track down the E. coli bacteria. The dogs found 17 sources of sewage leaks along the Galien River, the leaks were plugged and the beaches stayed open. 

We also created a green infrastructure plan for Los Angeles County that connects 62 cities and over 9 million people to parks and trails from the San Gabriel Forest to the Pacific Ocean.  And, with financial assistance from the Blank Foundation and sustained engagement with the local community, the Fund acquired a city block in the most underserved neighborhood in Atlanta to create its first park and kick off our Parks with Purpose initiative.

With approximately 14 miles of frontage on the Altamaha River and home to the gopher tortoise and other endangered species, the state of Georgia had wanted to make the nearly 20,000-acre Sansavilla property it a wildlife conservation area for many years. In 2014, the Fund made that a reality by purchasing the property with the help of our Working Forest Fund. That year, the Fund was also a key participant in The Partnership for Gulf Coast Land Conservation, which issued a landmark report to identify priority areas for land conservation and economic revival in the Gulf of Mexico.  

The Fund and U-Haul celebrated a significant milestone when the company’s one-millionth customer donated to our Go Zero® program, bringing 1,225 acres under protection and restoration since our partnership began in 2007. The Fund provided a critical loan as well for the construction of the 28,000-square-foot Boston Public Market, which will be open year-round for fresh food, up to 50 vendors, a bakery and a demonstration kitchen.

In July 2014, R. Michael Leonard, a well-known conservationist and attorney was elected Chair of the Fund's Board of Directors. 

Three Decades of Sustained Growth and Accomplishment

2015
The Fund celebrated its 30th anniversary, with a sustained focus on its original vision of achieving environmental protection with economic vitality in hundreds of communities and in every state in America. To date, the Fund has had more than 30 consecutive years of steady financial growth, maintaining at 96 percent one of the lowest operating and fund-raising ratios to its program funds. We have protected more than 7.5 million acres in all 50 states. And in 2015 we announced a new partnership with Apple, a precedent-setting initiative to conserve 36,000 acres of U.S. working forest in Maine and North Carolina.

Through a series of land acquisition and conservation programs, the Conservation Fund has added more than 200 miles to the Appalachian Trail. This amazing 2,179 outdoor legacy runs from Georgia to Maine, crossing through some of the country’s most scenic landscapes—from mountains to forests to untouched wilderness.

2016
The year opened with our purchase of 32,396 acres of working forestland in southern West Virginia that will eventually create the state’s largest, conserved block of prime habitat for elk restoration. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded a grant to the Fund for its Coastal Headwaters Forests Partnership efforts to protect and restore longleaf pine on private lands in Alabama.  

With a $1.6 million grant from Wells Fargo to our Natural Capital Investment Fund, we expanded access to lending and business advisory services for African American farmers and small business owners in North Carolina. Further south, the Fund and The Lyme Timber Company joined forces to protect 8,138 acres of forestland under a conservation easement in Florida’s lower Suwannee River basin. 


2017

In 2017, the Fund hosted the National Summit on Infrastructure and the Environment for more than 150 business leaders, government decision-makers, regulatory and permitting experts and conservation community representatives. Participants presented and discussed innovative approaches to infrastructure development that successfully accelerate approval processes, while addressing impacts to natural, cultural and historic resources. We were awarded two Conservation Innovation Grants from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to help to drive innovation in agricultural conservation for historically underserved, young, new, military veteran and other farmers in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota & West Virginia. And, our Working Forest Fund purchased two ecologically significant, large forests in Tennessee and along the borders of New York, Vermont and Massachusetts totaling more than 37,000 acres that support local timber jobs, vital wildlife habitat and a diverse array of recreational opportunities.