Conservation: A Continental Partnership

From Alaska's North Slope to Prairie Canada to the Gulf Coast, ConocoPhillips is investing in conservation research and restoration projects through a variety of collaborative partnerships

Photo © GARYKRAMER.NET

—By Andi Cooper

ConocoPhillips's commitment to conservation across North America exemplifies the many ways corporations can work with Ducks Unlimited and other partners to achieve common goals. For example, ConocoPhillips's Canada business unit is a partner with DU and the city of Calgary on habitat preservation efforts. Together, they have supported Bullshead Conservation Area, which encompasses more than 2,000 acres of wetland-rich prairie as well as interpretive sites and education programs.

Additionally, in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the company funds the ConocoPhillips SPIRIT of Conservation and Innovation Program, which works to improve habitat quality and connectivity. Since 2005, the program has awarded 81 grants totaling $10.7 million to 41 conservation groups in 13 states and five countries. Grantees, including Ducks Unlimited, matched this funding with an additional $22.9 million, facilitating the conservation of more than 293,500 acres.

ConocoPhillips has supported a variety of initiatives dedicated to the preservation of prairie wetlands, sagebrush, grasslands, prairie potholes, and playa lakes—all vital habitats for millions of birds. And in Louisiana, as the nation's largest nongovernmental owner of wetlands, ConocoPhillips is a crucial conservation partner for Ducks Unlimited along the Gulf Coast, where the company owns nearly 640,000 acres of coastal marsh. "Louisiana's loss of coastal wetlands is not just a local problem, it is a national issue," said retired ConocoPhillips Coastal Wetlands Director Phil Precht. 

Realizing that this coastal wetland loss is a crisis requiring the cooperation of public and private entities, Precht initiated the partnership between Ducks Unlimited and the company's Coastal Wetlands division and managed the relationship for six years until retiring in 2018. John Harrington, the new Coastal Wetlands director for ConocoPhillips, is continuing the company's restoration efforts.

"The habitat in this area is not only vital to the survival of many species of concern, it provides crucial storm protection for the nation's shipping, seafood, and energy industries. We are proud to be on the front lines of this effort through our support of several important programs," Harrington said, citing joint conservation efforts that include freshwater-introduction and marsh-terracing projects, shoreline stabilization, coastal ridge restoration, and hydrologic improvements.

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Photo © ANDI COOPER, DU

ConocoPhillips and DU are teaming up to restore and protect Gulf Coast wetlands, which provide vital wintering habitat for ducks and other migratory birds.

Lifetime and Continental Connections

In 2017, Ducks Unlimited presented ConocoPhillips with its inaugural Corporate Conservation Achievement Award. ConocoPhillips Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ryan Lance accepted the award on behalf of the company. "We're sincerely honored to accept this award," Lance remarked. "At Conoco-Phillips, we're committed to stewardship of the earth's environmental endowment for multiple reasons. We consider this a prerequisite to earning what we call our 'license to operate,' society's informal permission to conduct our business. Beyond that, we believe it's the right thing to do. After all, we see magic in the faces of our children when they catch a glimpse of birds in flight."

For Lance, the connection to migratory birds is a visceral one. He grew up in Montana, enjoying the outdoors while camping, hunting, fishing, and skiing. He and his family marked the changing seasons by watching for the long Vs of geese and other birds overhead as they migrated north in the spring, then south in the fall.

"When I started my career in Alaska, I saw the birds at their northernmost ranges," Lance said. "Ultimately, I wound up at ConocoPhillips in Houston, near the famous Katy Prairie, known as a bird paradise. In fact, my house is on the fringe, so I still enjoy watching the sky for birds."

The company's predecessors, Conoco and Phillips, were both founded in Oklahoma, part of America's heartland and a key component of the Central Flyway migratory corridor. "I guess you could say our people always had heartland values and awareness of the wonders of nature surrounding them," Lance said. "Their early operations on the plains were often in areas vital to migrating birds. So habitat preservation has been a natural interest of multiple generations of company leaders and employees."

Engaging at All Levels

ConocoPhillips has been an active participant in multiple USFWS joint ventures for 30 years. The company focuses on engagement in the regions where it operates, including partnerships with the Intermountain West, Northern Great Plains, Prairie Pothole, Playa Lakes, and Gulf Coast Joint Ventures. In fact, Conoco-Phillips has been a partner in the Playa Lakes Joint Venture since its inception in 1989. The company has contributed more than $3 million to these five joint ventures over the past 10 years. 

ConocoPhillips also makes contributions to these joint ventures to support targeted activities. For example, the company has committed $1 million over five years to the Intermountain West Joint Venture to support the Sage Grouse Initiative, an effort by multiple stakeholders to conserve intact native rangelands for the species. Led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the initiative has worked with ranchers to sustainably graze 4.4 million acres of rangeland that serve as habitat for sage grouse and 350 other species.

In addition to the company's support as a conservation partner, landowner, and corporate sponsor, ConocoPhillips Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Andrew Lundquist serves on the board of Wetlands America Trust (WAT), the land-trust arm of Ducks Unlimited. Many prominent leaders in business and industry serve on the board.

"The WAT board is responsible for investments in conservation lands, and the time put into each one of these projects is significant. To meet with such talented, successful people who are spending their own time to do one thing—conserve wetlands—has been a great experience for me," Lundquist said.

Lundquist grew up in Alaska, where a love for natural resources came from days spent on the Chena River near his home. His interest in policy brought him to Washington, DC, as a Senate staffer focused on natural resources, oil, and energy. "Energy became my career, but natural resources is my love. So, it was fitting that I came to work for ConocoPhillips given its corporate heritage of conservation," Lundquist explained.

Policy is another place Ducks Unlimited and ConocoPhillips work together for conservation. Sound policies from science-based wetlands protection to federal funding mechanisms are crucial for conservation efforts and can impact millions of acres with the stroke of a pen. "If I could choose my conservation legacy, I'd leave an unfailing partnership between the government and the private sector," Lundquist said. "We must all work together for the health of the environment, the safety of the communities that depend on it, and the happiness of our citizens." 

Ducks Unlimited and ConocoPhillips make tremendous partners, sharing a continental scope and a commitment to continued conservation efforts. "The job is never done," Lance said. "Not with a rising population and human encroachment and development into natural habitat areas. But just as Ducks Unlimited does, we remain committed to carrying on the good fight." 


Andi Cooper is a communications specialist in Ducks Unlimited's Southern Region. 

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Photo © ANDI COOPER, DU

Tracking Migration Patterns Working with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, ConocoPhillips helps support six projects using advanced tracking technologies to chart the journeys of 12 migratory bird species, several of which spend parts of their migration cycles near ConocoPhillips's areas of operation across the continent. Species tracked include Pacific loons, black-bellied plovers, marbled godwits, red knots, Canada warblers, Connecticut warblers, rusty blackbirds, common nighthawks, olive-sided flycatchers, mountain plovers, glaucous gulls, and long-billed curlews. This effort is providing a better understanding of migratory birds and their habitat needs throughout their life cycles, informing a coordinated approach for more effective conservation.