ArcNews Online

Fall 2005
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Overview: The Nature Conservancy

Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve the plants, animals, and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on earth by protecting The Nature Conservancy--saving the last great places on earththe lands and waters they need to survive. Its approach is to work together with partners to preserve private lands (through purchase or other measures), develop conservation-friendly public policies, and create innovative conservation funding. TNC is the world's largest private environmental organization, employing 3,200 staff members in 400 offices located in 28 countries and all 50 U.S. states. TNC manages the world's largest private network of nature preserves, with 3.3 million acres in direct ownership, 3.2 million acres in conservation easements, and 1.5 million acres under leases and management agreements.

TNC has set an ambitious goal to work with others to ensure conservation of places that represent at least 10 percent of every major habitat type on earth by 2015. To accomplish this, it has developed an approach called Conservation by Design, which involves setting priorities, designing strategies, taking action, and measuring results at multiple scales. It begins by identifying ecoregions (regions with similar ecological conditions) as the primary unit for assessing biodiversity and setting conservation priorities.

"The key to lasting conservation success is the support and involvement of all sectors of society," says Steve McCormick, president of The Nature Conservancy. "It is only through working together and uniting our individual strengths that we are able to achieve the kind of results that will ensure the preservation of our natural heritage for future generations." Implementing this philosophy, TNC strives to include local and international communities, businesses, governments, and partner organizations, as well as indigenous and traditional people in its strategy.

Under Conservation by Design, comprehensive ecoregional assessments form the basis for understanding the unique ecology of and threats to each habitat. Assessments first identify and then prioritize land and marine habitats to best represent the full biological diversity of each ecoregion; assessments also establish a baseline for measuring progress.

The next design steps identify both existing biodiversity and elements of threat within each landscape or seascape; define explicit conservation goals, strategies, and key indicators; and establish monitoring programs to measure change. Based on these plans, TNC and its partners take actions such as purchasing land and water rights, influencing policies, educating communities, and managing sites. Results are measured by field visits and remote sensing, as well as by changes in protected areas and threats.

As a result, Conservation by Design creates vast amounts of information, for which TNC has selected Esri's ArcGIS Desktop software to maintain, analyze, and share. ArcInfo helps establish each ecoregion's geodatabase framework; extensions such as ArcGIS Spatial Analyst and ArcGIS Network Analyst support site-specific analyses. In addition, ArcGIS Publisher and ArcWeb Services allow TNC to share information and communicate with key partners and stakeholders at local, national, and global scales.

"GIS allows us to represent, visualize, and measure every aspect of our work at site, regional, and global scales," says TNC senior conservation data architect Frank Biasi. "Conservation is an inherently complex, multivariate exercise in understanding and influencing places. GIS helps us integrate all of the natural and human variables operating at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. In essence, GIS models our world and our work and, thus, supports everything we do. GIS has evolved to play a central role in every phase of this conservation approach, which has led TNC to increase its number of GIS professionals to 150 and casual GIS users to around 800."

GIS consequently serves as a common language uniting the TNC organization across geographies and conservation themes. For more information on The Nature Conservancy, visit

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