For hundreds of years from now
Unless we achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that our climate may be forever changed for the worse.
Don Nelson ’50 has already done something about it.
Fifty years ago, he began purchasing farmland expressly for conservation. To date, he has helped convert nearly 2,000 acres back to forest, prairie, and wetlands, including the St. Olaf Natural Lands that serve as a natural habitat and living learning space. These spaces act as carbon sinks, absorbing CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
Restoration doesn’t just happen naturally; it takes human resources of time and money to help nature back to health. We are grateful for the support.Kathleen Shea, professor of Biology and Environmental Studies and Curator of Natural Lands
On his first farm, Nelson placed conservation easements and planted and grew some 16,000 trees with help from state agencies. He then sold the land to the Department of Natural Resources. He did this several more times, donating the proceeds of each sale to organizations engaged in conservation stewardship.
“Someone once told me ‘You’re going to be a millionaire when you harvest those trees; that’s valuable land,'” says Nelson. “But I was planting trees for hundreds of years from now, not today.”
At St. Olaf, the funds Nelson created are helping restore former farmland to native forests, prairie, and wetlands. This includes supporting the curator of natural lands, student naturalists, a new natural lands manager, and the student-run St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works (STOGROW) farm. Added gifts provided a heated shed for Natural Lands work and STOGROW, two electric utility vehicles, and a truck. Many other Oles, donors, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have joined in this effort to restore and preserve these important spaces.
“On every tour of the Natural Lands, we make the point that the forest and prairie restorations would not have been possible without endowment funding and that managing the restorations requires continued financial support,” says Kathleen Shea, professor of biology and environmental studies and curator of natural lands. “Restoration doesn’t just happen naturally; it takes human resources of time and money to help nature back to health. We are grateful for the support.”