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Nature Conservancy urges cooperation

Your editorial "Nature conservancy efforts disregard indigenous peoples"
(Vol. 24, Iss. 24) issues a welcome call for conservation groups to work
more closely and effectively with Native and traditional peoples.

We at the Nature Conservancy agree wholeheartedly that conservationists and
Native peoples must work more closely together to develop strategies that
protect both the natural world and traditional cultures.

Most of the world's biodiversity exists in areas inhabited by people. The
Nature Conservancy knows firsthand that effective conservation cannot be
achieved unless the people who live and rely on those lands are an integral
part of the process.

In Wisconsin, we have partnered with the Bad River Band of Lake Superior
Tribe of Chippewa Indians to maintain the health of the Kakagon/Bad River
sloughs. The Conservancy has helped transfer ownership of over 23,000 acres
of traditional land to the tribe. Protection of these areas not only
conserves biological diversity, but it also safeguards wild rice beds,
medicinal plants, trees for maple sugaring and fish spawning habitat, which
are important cultural and economic resources for the tribe.

In Oklahoma, the Conservancy is working closely with the Osage tribe on our
Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. The Osage people own all mineral rights to the
39,000-acre preserve, so the Conservancy coordinates with them regularly on
management issues. Many members of the preserve's management team are of
Native American descent, including the preserve's director who is of
Cherokee heritage. A founding member of our Oklahoma Board of Trustees,
Jerry Crockett, is also a member of the Osage tribe and participated in the
original design of the preserve.

In Alaska, the Conservancy is working with the Native Village of Wainwright
to develop a conservation strategy for their 18,000-square-mile traditional
use area. The collaborative effort will combine biological data gathered by
the Conservancy and the indigenous ecological knowledge of this Inupiaq
community.

We are also partnering with indigenous communities around the world. In
Colombia, for example, the Conservancy is working with the Kogi, Wiwa,
Arsario and Arhuaco tribes to help them reacquire their sacred ancestral
lands. Under their tribal belief system, these lands are seen as the center
of the Earth, so restoring the land restores the entire world. For that
reason they are a powerful partner in protecting the area's amazing
diversity.

These are just a few examples of where the Nature Conservancy is partnering
with Native communities to preserve their traditional lands. But we know
more can and should be done. The Conservancy's philosophy of continuous
learning drives us to constantly review our activities, learn from our
mistakes and improve how we work. Each community is unique, and learning
the unique cultural complexities of indigenous groups is an ongoing
process.

Your editorial takes an important step in supporting a much-needed dialogue
among conservationists and Native peoples. We look forward to continuing
and strengthening our work with Native peoples in pursuit of a goal shared
by both conservationists and indigenous populations: Preserving the Earth's
natural resources and ecosystems that will sustain our children,
grandchildren and generations to come.

Michael Andrews is chief operating officer and managing director of
conservation at the Nature Conservancy.