Epilogue
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162 I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away. Percy Bysshe Shelley In his Natural Areas Journal article “The Natural Areas Movement in the United States, Its Past and Its Future,” George Fell provided a detailed comparison between IBM and The Nature Conservancy. Being a self-taught and highly successful investor, he knew “Big Blue” nearly as well as he did “Big Oak Leaf.” Referencing a series of logarithmic graphs that he had plotted, he calculated Epilogue = Epilogue 163 that between 1962 and 1988 IBM’s accumulated earnings (with dividends reinvested ) had grown at an annual rate of 18.5 percent. “Quite a phenomenal record of consistent sustained growth through good times and bad,” he observed by way of teeing up the even more impressive growth numbers of the conserv­ ancy. In truth, Fell’s comparison was apples to oranges: it compared the most recent third of a mature, seventy-five-year-old corporation to the entire life­ span of a nonprofit organization half its age. Nonetheless, his fundamental point stands on its own merit: the conservancy’s growth from its inception in 1951 through 1988 was indeed impressive. Its membership base had increased by an average of 21.5 percent per year. The total number of conservation projects and total acres protected had grown by annual average rates of 29 percent and 39 percent, respectively. Total operating revenues and total fund balances had expanded on average by 33 percent and 47 percent, respectively, year after year after year.1 In the article, Fell took not the least credit for the conservancy’s “remarkable growth history.” In fact, he dismissed the very idea that this history had anything to do with its organizational concept and structure. Rather, he chalked it all up to “the determined efforts of a growing band of dedicated believers.” Fell went further still in quoting in its entirety Shelley’s most frequently anthologized poem, “Ozymandias,” and then opining, “We [in the conservation field] have an advantage over the builders of structural monuments” in our knowledge that nature will, in the end, outlast both us and our creations.2 Fell was no Ozymandias. He took pains not to call attention to himself. But, in his own summary history of the natural areas movement, he considerably undervalued himself and the importance of the institutions he had built. As much as the natural lands he protected, they are—for more than half a century and still going strong—living monuments to his legacy. The Nature Conservancy Were George Fell still with us today, he would have enjoyed continuing to chart the logarithmic ascendancy of The Nature Conservancy. By several measures , it has become the largest environmental organization in the world. Fell once envied European conservation organizations for having membership rolls numbering “in the thousands!” Today, the conservancy boasts a million members worldwide. Fell once chided his trustees for not investing in staff capacity. The conservancy currently employs 600 scientists and a total staff numbering more than 2,500.3 Fell envisioned a robust chapter system coordinating conservation efforts throughout the country. The conservancy’s reach now extends beyond its fifty state chapters to efforts in sixty-eight countries besides the United States. The conservancy was birthed with three hundred dollars in its bank 164 Epilogue account. Over the course of 2014 and 2015, its average annual revenues exceeded $1 billion, with total net assets of nearly $6 billion.4 Following its launch, in 1950, it took nearly five years for the conservancy to protect its first parcel of land, totaling sixty acres. Worldwide, the conservancy has increased the number of acres it has helped protect to nearly 120 million and counting. The Illinois chapter of the conservancy, with which Fell remained involved for many years, is one of the largest and most active chapters, with seven major ongoing project areas throughout the state. These range from...



Subject Headings

  • Fell, George B.
  • Nature Conservancy (U.S.) -- History.
  • Natural Areas Association (U.S.) -- History.
  • Illinois Nature Preserves Commission -- History.
  • Natural Land Institute (Rockford, Ill.) -- History.
  • Natural areas -- Illinois -- History.
  • Nature conservation -- Illinois -- History.
  • Conservationists -- Illinois -- Biography.
  • Natural areas -- United States -- History.
  • Nature conservation -- United States -- History.
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