When a stretch of remote wilderness on the coast of British Columbia recently went up for sale, a local nonprofit wanted to save it from logging but didn’t have the cash to buy it. They negotiated a purchase price with the owners anyway—and then launched a crowdfunding campaign that successfully raised the $3 million needed to acquire the land.
“We knew that there had been interest and offers from forestry companies,” says Andrew Day, CEO of the BC Parks Foundation, which raised the money to purchase nearly 2,000 acres of forest on three adjacent parcels in the Princess Louisa Inlet, a fjord around 60 miles from Vancouver. “We were very familiar with the beauty of the inlet and these properties in particular, and felt that it was really important to try to step in and see what we could do. We were very lucky and appreciative the vendors gave us an exclusive purchase and sale agreement until the end of August. That gave us three months to try to pull off the impossible.”
The organization “had zero dollars” for the project, Day says. But the public was motivated to save the area, and small donations started pouring in. The final piece of the funding arrived just before the seller’s deadline on August 28. The foundation will now work with the local government and the indigenous Sechelt Nation to connect the land with adjacent parks and conservation areas; the new property won’t focus on recreation but will provide habitat for animals like grizzly bears and mountain goats, and, like other forests, it will play a role in fighting climate change.
When wilderness comes up for sale, it’s not unusual that a nonprofit, like the U.S.-based Trust for Public Land, steps in to buy it. Crowdfunding the purchase is more unusual, although it isn’t a new idea. When the American government agreed to create Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1926—after a successful campaign from people in the area—states and large donors were only able to raise some of the money needed to buy the land, and the final $1 million was raised by the public. (As in the campaign in Canada, where children ran a fundraiser at a school and sent in a check for around $800, children helped raise some of the money for Great Smoky Mountains National Park.) Day thinks it should happen more often. “Hopefully we do see more of this kind of thing, in the right places at the right time,” he says. “When we set out to do it, we were conscious of not just protecting Princess Louisa, but also trying to inspire this kind of movement internationally.”