MORRISON: Non-Profit or Big Business - The Nature Conservancy at work

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

By Joyce Morrison
for the Illinois Leader


Emiquon located in Fulton County, IL. (picture courtesy of The Nature Conservancy)
OPINION - A recent Chicago Sun-Times article by Jan Dennis heralded Illinois as having the richest farmland in the nation - if not the world. Illinois Farm Bureau spokesman Dennis Vercler said rich farmland is common near river basins.

Consider all the food that is produced from this rich soil, making Illinois a leader in the world of agriculture.

Communities and schools thrive on the property taxes collected from this rich farmland. One fourth of the jobs in Illinois is based upon the production grown on Illinois farmland.

Why, then, is the National Conservation Resource Service (NCRS), a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), giving $10.7 million dollars out of farm bill funds to a multi-billion dollar "non-profit" agency to make swampland out of rich farmland. This land has been farmed for the past 80 years.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) bought 7,775 acres from Wilder Corporation in 2000 for $18.45 million. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife has since purchased 712 of those acres from the conservancy. The Fish and Wildlife Service owns 2,200 acres adjacent to the conservancy's holdings.

This purchase known as "Emiquon" is one of the largest wetland restoration projects in the United States. TNC is often called the "real estate agent for the government."

"When the area was leveed 80 years ago it became productive farmland. Through the partnership with NRCS we have an opportunity to make Emiquon more productive for fish, birds and all forms of wildlife, as well as hikers, fishers, bird watchers, hunters, photographers, historians, scientists and students," according to spokespersons.

Caterpillar Corp. has given TNC $12 million for the Emiquon project. Prior to this grant, Caterpillar had given TNC around $800,000 in total giving over 25 years.

Among those monetarily supporting the river recovery work of the Conservancy is the Ameren Corporation Charitable Trust, making a donation of $225,000.

Exelon Corporation has pledged $1 million over the next four years between the The Nature Conservancy's Emiquon project and a wildlife project in Pennsylvania.

The Wilder Farm, formerly known as Norris Farms, will now become a wetlands. TNC has signed a 30-year Wetlands Reserve Program and will receive yearly payments based on the agricultural value of land (value as it was when farmed) now made into wetlands.

"Washington officials today announced a nationwide partnership between The Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a division of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)," according to a joint press release on February 18.

Bruce Knight, chief of the NRCS said the agreement creates a framework for other states to follow in setting up government-private partnerships. The Memorandum of Understanding formalized the collaboration between the Conservancy and NRCS. The partnership will generate many natural resource-based projects across the country, similar to the Emiquon project.

The conservancy will receive an additional $500,000 to help pay for the first phases of restoration and may apply for other restoration funds later. According to a report in the Springfield Journal, the cost of the restoration of the Emiquon Preserve is expected to be between $1.5 million and $4 million.

Former Illinois Governor George H. Ryan also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with The Nature Conservancy to allow for scientific exchange of information that will supposedly benefit the Illinois River Basin.

The hope "to revive some semblance of the rhythm of flooding and recession that nature uses to control rivers more effectively than any levee ever built. The 7,600 acre swath of manicured farmland that the scientists eyed from their perch is a common example of how the modern world has transformed the Illinois and other large flood-plain rivers," according to TNC.

Did our legislators vote to partner nationwide with the TNC and NRCS or is it the dream world of the bureaucrats and environmentalists? Do our legislators know that TNC did not like seeing "manicured farmland" their scientists eyed from their perch?

For some reason TNC did not see these fields as land producing habitat and food for the wild animals as well as food for the hungry around the world.

The non-profit environmental group wants to bring back the lakes, marshes and forests that once thrived in this area, reconnecting them to the Illinois River, which is now barricaded from the land by a 20-foot tall levee.

When the government gives money to a private project, it is called a "Public Private Partnership." It is very difficult to understand why tax dollars should be used in a partnership with an environmental group that has grabbed up rich farmland.

Forget about all the hoopla of "urban sprawl" taking the farmland.

Sprawl can't begin to compare to the government and their partners using every program imaginable to unconstitutionally gain control, or take into their possession, the rich land and landmarks of this nation.

Did your favorite organization get the opportunity to partner with the government and be blessed by a few million dollars? I didn't think so. Not unless you are an environmental NGO.

How do we get an accounting from a non-governmental organization who is using millions of tax payer dollars? We did not elect their board and we have no way of holding their board accountable.

The Nature Conservancy has already partnered with the U.S. Corps of Engineers in the lock and dam improvements projects planned for the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. The environmentalists are demanding far more dollars for their restoration projects than the cost to update the locks and dams.

It is well known that certain government agencies have made excessive discretionary grants to environmental organizations with little oversight or public knowledge. It has been at the discretion of bureaucrats who showered federal dollars upon their friends in their favorite environmental organizations

The Nature Conservancy has thousands of acres in Illinois for "conservation" projects. See the following:

Northern IL

Bluff Spring Fen

Chicago Wilderness

Fel-Pro RRR Preserve

Indian Boundary Prairies

Kankakee Sands Preserve

Nachusa Grasslands


Central IL

Cedar Glen Eagle Roost and Preserve

Mackinaw River Watershed & Chinquapin Bluffs Preserve

Emiquon Project

Spunky Bottoms


Southern IL

Grassy Slough Preserve at the Cache River Wetlands

Illinois Ozarks

All of these projects remove taxable property from private ownership and from the local tax roles. When the government or a non-profit agency owns property, they do not pay property taxes. That means the remaining property owners in the school district and community must pay increased taxes to attain the needed funds.

All of this money funneled into one organization makes one wonder if it is about conservation or big business.

© 2005 -- all rights reserved

Joyce Morrison lives in southern Illinois. She is a chapter leader for Concerned Women for America and she and her husband, Gary, represent the local Citizens for Private Property Rights. Joyce is Secretary to the Board of Directors of Rural Restoration/ADOPT Mission, a national farm ministry located in Sikeston.
She has become a nationally-recognized advocate for property rights.



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