Its Integrity Questioned, Nature Conservancy Drops Controversial Policies

Its Integrity Questioned, Nature Conservancy Drops Controversial Policies

Responding to recent congressional and media criticism, the Nature Conservancy has decided to terminate several of its more controversial practices, including lending money to its executives and selling land to trustees, the Washington Post reports.

Following a series of expos�s in the Post and questions raised subsequently by two U.S. senators, the board of the Conservancy, the world's richest environmental organization, decided to drop the practices during a meeting at Conservancy headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. While many of the practices had been suspended, the latest announcement by the Conservancy marks their permanent abandonment.

Among the practices dropped is the buying or selling of land in transactions involving board members, state trustees, and employees and their families, as well as the acceptance of charitable gifts in connection with the so-called conservation buyer program, unless the gifts are documented and explicitly part of the deal. The Conservancy said in a statement that while an external review had found no legal problems with such transactions, the board decided to take action "to remove even the perception of conflict of interest or impropriety related to conservation buyer transactions."

The board also prohibited new loans to employees — the organization had extended housing loans with favorable terms to twelve employees — as well as new mining or oil or gas drilling projects on Conservancy preserves, and said it would hire independent outside advisers to help review its governance and oversight policies.

"These steps will assure the Conservancy's supporters and partners of the organization's commitment to integrity beyond reproach," said Conservancy spokesman Jim Petterson, "and will better equip the organization to address the world's conservation challenges."

Joe Stephens. "Conservancy Abandons Disputed Practices." Washington Post 06/16/2003.