NHI is a non-governmental, non-profit organization founded in 1989 by a group of experienced conservation lawyers and scientists who foresaw the need for a toolkit for the next era of environmental problem-solving: where the technical challenges are more complex, the solutions more elusive, the economics more central, the ramifications more global, and the conventional pathways less efficacious.
NHI's core mission is to restore and protect the natural functions that support water-dependent ecosystems and the services they provide to sustain and enrich human life.
When the earth's limited stock of natural resources is squandered, the legacy bequeathed to future generations is impoverished, sometimes for all time. The only hope for this beleaguered planet is to do more with less and to restore the damage of the past. Increasingly, the environmental challenge is to move from strategies that freeze the status quo to those that ensure that the economic use of natural resources also yields net environmental gains.
Wise and prudent stewardship is a function of the laws, institutions, techniques, and incentives that bear on resource management decisions. These seldom keep pace with accelerating change and mounting demands. The mission of the Natural Heritage Institute is to bridge that gap. To these ends, NHI applies a wide array of tools and strategies including, deploying predictive simulations of water resource systems, on-the-ground ecological restoration projects, the design of improved management and institutional arrangements, policy analysis, and legal advocacy and interventions.
As a public interest law firm that advocates as an engine for social change, NHI acts as both a representative of environmental interests and a counselor to the ultimate custodians, managers and regulators of water resource assets. We represent conservation interests in complex, multi-party negotiations over the allocation of natural resources. Yet, somewhat uniquely, we operate both within and outside of the policy-making institutions. We typically bridge across institutional boundaries, often working in creative partnerships with other governmental and non-governmental organizations. Whereas these government agencies and the private resource custodians are often absorbed by the urgent at the expense of the important, NHI has the advantage of being able to take the longer view and illuminate the transformational solutions that loom beyond the conventional planning horizon. We endeavor to keep a seat at every table and a voice in every forum, recognizing that constructive engagement with the custodians and managers of both public and private resources is indispensable. Our job is to find solutions. To do that, we must progressively develop new approaches, processes and institutional arrangements.
NHI consciously predicates its action agenda on a sound technical and scientific foundation, even when that may lead in unfamiliar directions. NHI brings exceptional professional skills and insights that engage a full range of relevant disciplines in forging solutions. Yet, in formulating and executing our projects, our reach is not limited by the capabilities of our resident staff and board; we routinely recruit into our project teams, as necessary, state-of-the-art expertise drawn from external institutions.
NHI addresses the economic incentive structures that tend to discount future values in favor of present ones in resource management decisions. Our belief is that if the incentives can be rectified, the custodians, consumers, managers and regulators will make the right decisions. Thus, market mechanisms and the elimination of perverse subsidies are important tools, and distributional impacts of resource policies are necessary considerations.
Our work knows no geographic bounds. We work in watersheds worldwide, including transboundary systems, that have been significantly altered and those where intact aquatic systems of exceptional ecological value are subject to imminent development pressure. We pursue an integrated systems approach that includes entire water-centered landscapes from headwaters, to floodplains, to wetlands, to estuarine systems, to the near shore environment, and includes both groundwater and surface water systems and their interactions. NHI targets systemic improvements and tool development rather than place-based or species-specific conservation actions. To be sure, our projects generally take place within a particular geographic context. However, while the local conservation improvements are important, our overall objective is to demonstrate tools or techniques for propagation at the global scale.