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Originally published March 5, 2014 at 8:43 PM | Page modified March 6, 2014 at 1:31 PM

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Foundation’s innovative gift gives Nature Conservancy a lift

The nature of giving back takes a step forward as The Nature Conservancy’s holistic approach gets a big boost from an innovative family of philanthropists.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Take the right people, mix two very good ideas, stir in some money and you can make the world better. That’s the formula at work in a $26 million pledge to The Nature Conservancy for projects designed to help people and conserve wild places in three African countries.

The gift began with a relationship forged in Seattle and nurtured through conservation work along the coasts of Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. It rests on the growing recognition that saving animals and rivers and trees is done best when local people are involved, and their needs are met, too.

What I’m talking about is pairing social-impact investment with conservation. It’s not a new idea, but one too rarely put into practice. It is only in recent years that it has begun coming into its own. Let’s begin with the who of the equation, the source of the gift.

Joel and Holly Dobberpuhl live in Nashville, Tenn. — they settled there because it’s between Minnesota, where he’s from, and Alabama, where she grew up. But he has relatives in West Seattle and his family spends time each year in their Belltown condo.

“We love the Pacific Northwest,” Dobberpuhl told me when I called Wednesday to talk about conservation and giving. He runs Jetstream Capital, an investment firm he founded in 2003, but giving is something the entire family — the couple have a son and daughter in college — does together through the Peter Hawkins Dobberpuhl Foundation.

A virus took Peter, their middle child, when he was only 22 days old, and afterward, the family created the foundation in his name.

“My profession and skill set has led to the creation of capital over time,” Dobberpuhl said, “and we’re big believers in that responsibility to recycle that money into the hands of people who are trying to make the world a better place.”

Each family member has areas of particular interest, and Holly Dobberpuhl has led them to an appreciation of nature.

The family was drawn to the work that the Seattle chapter of The Nature Conservancy was doing in places they liked exploring, such as Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Mike Stevens, state director for The Nature Conservancy, told me the organization was approached by the Dobberpuhl Foundation about five years ago, and he’s been impressed by the amount of effort the family puts into understanding the work and figuring out how they might help.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC), especially over the past decade, has been moving toward a new model for achieving its core mission — saving nature, especially old-growth forests. For 53 years, it has protected land by buying or leasing it, and through trying to affect policy. It still does that, but there’s not enough money to buy every bit of wilderness or forest that’s endangered.

“When you’re trying to affect an entire ecosystem,” Dobberpuhl said, the effort will be, “only as effective as the weakest link in the chain.” Often that’s human activity, commerce or local people trying to make a living. Engaging with those activities and people, “is potentially another tool in the quiver to affect outcomes,” Dobberpuhl said. “One of our attractions to TNC is that they are thought leaders in this area,” he said.

When I spoke with Stevens, he told me the conservancy is treating the coastline from Washington to Alaska as one conservation area, the Emerald Edge, working with governments across borders and working directly with local people whose activities affect the wildlife, water and land around them. Conservancy workers get to know the people who fish and cut timber, and involve them in finding solutions that help them and the environment.

The conservancy is using that approach in its work around the world and Dobberpuhl has supported that holistic approach in the Northwest and now in Africa, and he’s adding to it an investment approach.

Some of the money for work in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia is a straight gift, traditional philanthropy. The family is giving $6 million to secure a 60,000-acre tract of land that is rich in wildlife and is a critical elephant corridor. And they are paying $3 million to raise awareness in China where most of the demand for ivory from elephants exists. Elephant populations are endangered because the animals are slain in great numbers for their tusks, the source of that ivory.

They are also providing money to combat poverty and some of that money is in the form of a seven-year, interest-free loan to enlarge a proven program that helps cattle herders improve their grazing practices and their access to markets.

That and other Nature Conservancy programs are aimed at reducing the impact of herding and farming on the land and reducing the poverty that leads people to participate in the ivory trade.

Some of the projects are intended to improve health and education and to reduce conflicts, too.

Conservation is still the ultimate goal for The Nature Conservancy, but this improved formula, and the Dobberpuhl family’s partnership, are bound to yield a richer outcome for the ecosystems involved and the people who live as part of them. It’s a long-overdue approach.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays. | 206-464-3346

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