Anyone who has stopped to admire majestic views of South Carolina’s mountains or strolled along its beaches can appreciate the importance of the work of The Nature Conservancy. Founded in the United States in 1951 and working in South Carolina since 1969, TNC is the world’s largest conservation organization. It has chapters in all 50 states and works in 72 countries, with a mission to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.
As one of the largest landowners in the United States, TNC will continue to work to protect biologically important areas that impact our quality of life. The global organization sets priorities—like combatting climate change, feeding populations sustainably, and bringing nature to cities—which local chapters adopt in ways that make the most sense in their region.
In South Carolina, that translates to protecting land, restoring forests and safeguarding fresh waters and oceans, according to Ryan Thackray, associate director of philanthropy for the Upstate.
“Conservation impacts everyone,” Thackray says. “It’s important to make sure we grow in a smart and intentional way.”
The organization takes a science-based approach to conservation, harnessing the power of nature where possible. Nature-based solutions employed in South Carolina include shoreline stabilization with living reefs made of oysters, and controlled burns to clear the undergrowth in forests.
“We’re installing oyster reefs that protect the environment in three ways: They improve water quality by filtration—one oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day; they provide a habitat for fish and other animals; and they prevent coastal erosion by serving as natural buffers against storms and rising sea levels,” Thackray says.
Although setting fires intentionally may seem destructive, forests and wildlife actually benefit from periodic fire. Historically, Native Americans used fire to manage their surroundings, and lightning can provide a natural source of ignition. Today, TNC fire teams regularly perform controlled burns from the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains to the Conservancy’s Sandy Island Preserve in Georgetown, S.C. to benefit both people and nature.
Controlled burning is an effective and cost efficient forest management tool, Thackray says. “Controlled burns not only increase public and firefighter safety by reducing the severity of wildfires, but also enhance forest health and promote wildlife habitat.”
Big conservation projects are TNC SC’s most significant work, and purchasing land for these ventures is costly. This year, the South Carolina Chapter is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a $60 million capital campaign, the largest in state history. Thackray says the money will be used to fund new land acquisition, fresh water and marine work, and forest restoration, and to build the organization’s endowment to sustain its efforts for the next 50 years.
TNC has approximately 9,000 members in South Carolina, which includes anyone who supports the organization financially. Donors choose whether their contribution goes to support global or local initiatives. “We are the world’s largest conservation organization but we also have an office right here on Cleveland Street to support TNC’s work in the Upstate region,” Thackray says.
One of those local members is Community Foundation of Greenville’s immediate past board chair, Sue Priester, who has made gifts to the nonprofit from her Donor Advised Fund for about 15 years. “Some special and important places in the natural world should belong to all of us, and the Nature Conservancy does the work of preserving them,” she says.
The best way to appreciate those special places and the natural resources they comprise is to visit protected sites, such as Jones Gap State Park and TNC’s Blue Wall Preserve in Greenville County, for recreation and to enjoy the scenery.
“TNC envisions a world where people and nature thrive together,” Thackray says. “Our work protects land and water from the mountains to the sea for today, and for future generations to enjoy.”
To learn more, visit nature.org/SC or the Greenville office at 27 Cleveland St..