June 13, 2016|By Callie Easterly| Support our Efforts

I live in Houston, Texas, where big business is, well, BIG. I can't be seen as an environmentalist who will never be satisfied—that is simply not going to get me anywhere here. But being recognized as an environmentalist who works with big businesses, who conserves wildlife and land through national parks, state parks and nature preserves, and who takes the health and well-being of cities into account gives me more “street cred” with potential and existing donors.

When I got the call to come work for The Conservation Fund in September of 2015, I was so excited. The Fund is a nonprofit that is run like a business; instead of membership or an endowment, we have a revolving fund, which is a working pool of capital that can be deployed quickly to protect the places that we and our partners have deemed the highest priorities for conservation. The Fund’s triple-bottom line to conservation—always taking into account the environmental, economic and human impact of our projects—was something I knew would be a great fit with the business community and mentality of Gulf Region. That philosophy is what made me want to work for The Conservation Fund and what wakes me up excited for work every morning. We are not just changing the way conservation is done throughout the United States, we are changing the way development is done.

Most grassroots nonprofits are in crisis mode, understandably. I’ve been there many times in my previous work in development at other nonprofits. There is always a state of emergency and need to accomplish one large pressing goal that often pushes donor cultivation down the list of priorities. A long, slow courtship to make sure that you share conservation values is what builds a lasting donor relationship. It is sort of like dating, in that needy relationships don’t tend to last. Donors tire of hearing “help the organization now” and never feeling like they’ve done enough. It’s an exhausting relationship for everyone involved.

The Conservation Fund allows me the time to develop lasting relationships, and sees value in the interaction between business and conservation. We are able to be the “middle man” and bring groups that normally don’t talk together for the common good. Whether it is working with state, federal, or local agencies, the Fund acts as a common link that everyone respects to get the conversation going. I will give you an example.

Almost twenty years ago, the Fund made the first South Texas transaction in the Rio Grande Valley. Bahia Grande is a beautiful piece of land worth millions in ecological and biological value. Important not just because it is located on the Gulf of Mexico, with pristine wetlands and directly within the migratory bird path, but also because it is home to the only ocelot population in the United States. It is estimated that there are only about 80 ocelots left in the nation.

Callie Ocelot c Phaedre HolmesThe Fund’s efforts in South Texas help provide important habitat for ocelot and many other species. Photo by Phaedre Holmes.

The Fund purchased Bahia Grande, allowing the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service time to raise money needed to purchase the land from us and manage it sustainably. That was two decades ago and the momentum has not ceased. It has taken a group of like-minded entities to make a plan for more acquisitions, better infrastructure, and sustainable land management. Besides the Fund, these groups include the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Texas Department of Transportation, County Commissioners, local landowners, and conservationists. And there is no stopping now.

Callie bahia grandeBahia Grande. Photo by Callie Easterly.

In May 2016, we watched the expansion of a major thoroughfare being paved. That may not sound all that interesting or related to conservation, but while the expansion of the road was underway, so was the creation of nine ocelot corridors being placed underneath the road. Many groups worked together on this project to decrease the likelihood of ocelots crossing the road. This intersection of business (the road was in desperate need of improvement) and conservation (the ocelot need a safer passage) is just one example of what makes the Fund great. I propose that this intersection is what will change the face of conservation. This is a perfect metaphor for the work we do—make a better path for conservation at the intersection of business and nature.

Callie Andy and Callie at the ocelot corridorsCallie Easterly and Andy Jones, The Conservation Fund’s Texas State Director, in front of one of the ocelot corridors. Photo provided by Callie Easterly.

To quote Larry Selzer, the Fund’s President and CEO, we conservationists need to learn to say “yes” sometimes. Not giving up our ideals, but finding the greener path for both business and conservation to work side by side. Working at the Fund has changed the way I approach development. Our method creates lasting relationships with businesses and donors, finding where their conservation values and ours intersect, and that makes me proud to be a part of The Conservation Fund.