In the 200 years since Meriwether Lewis and William Clark first set out with the Corps of Discovery to document America's vast landscape, much has changed and what remains is threatened.
The Nature Conservancy believes that the countrys national heritage must remain intact for generations to come, said Steve McCormick, president of the organization.
Much of the land through which Lewis and Clark passed "is all but lost to memory,"he said.
"The Nature Conservancy and its partners are working to protect what remains and restore what was lost,"McCormick said.
The projects focusing on Lewis and Clark include the lands along the Rocky Mountain Front, creating the first tribal land trust in the nation on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana; establishing the Heart Mountain Grassbank in Wyoming; and a region along the Missouri, Niobrara, and Platte rivers.
The emphasis on Lewis and Clark and the areas through which they trekked are among the projects being undertaken by the Conservancy.
The organization's mission is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.
With about 1 million members nationwide, the Conservancy has worked to protect 15.27 million acres in the United States.
Another project undertaken is the Campaign for Conservation, which has already raised about $1.4 billion.
In the largest private conservation campaign undertaken, the Conservancy will invest $1.25 billion in saving 200 of the world's "Last Great Places."These are described as the lands and waters that move us, inspire us, and fire our imagination, officials said.
To guide the efforts, the Conservancy will develop the "Blueprint for Saving the Last Great Places."It will be a detailed vision that identifies and protects the world's most precious ecosystems. The blueprint will guide conservation work and establish priorities for years to come.
"This 'Blueprint for Saving the Last Great Places' will identify the sites and actions necessary to protect biodiversity over the long term, officials said.
To begin translating the vision into on-the-ground results, the Conservancy is taking immediate action with local partners at 200 high priority 'Last Great Places'in the United States, Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific.
Among the sites are Davis Mountains in Texas, described by Conservancy officials as "an isolated sky island'' in the arid expanse of the Chihuahuan Desert in west Texas. The mountains support cool, moist pine-oak woodlands, ponderosa pines and even stands of aspen.
The Conservancy maintains an 18,000-acre preserve in the heart of the mountains and is working with a wide range of partners to conserve the ecological values of the area while respecting its ranching heritage.
Emiquon, Ill., is the largest private conservation transaction in Illinois history, resulting in the Conservancy's purchase of 7,527 acres along the Illinois River. It ensures protection of one of the midwest's most biologically significant floodplain areas, officials say.
While currently farmed, the area was once home to the greatest abundance of fish, mussels and waterfowl in the Illinois and Upper Mississippi river valleys.
"By virtue of its size, optimal location, and biological legacy, the preserve is considered the linchpin for recovery of the Illinois River system,"officials say.
In Kimbe Bay, Papua, New Guinea, towering mountain peaks, lush, steamy valleys and dazzling coral reefs are part of the diverse and dramatic beauty.
In Mount Hamilton, Calif., the scenic countryside on the edge of the San Francisco Bay area features oak woodlands, native grasslands and abundant streams that are home to golden eagles, mountain lions, rare butterflies and steelhead trout.
The Conservancy has safeguarded 80,000 acres and plans to protect a total of 200,000 acres. Project staff members are working with local ranchers to encourage the use of range management techniques compatible with good wildlife habitat.
Palmyra Atoll, located 1,052 miles south of Hawaii, consists of 680 acres of land and 15,512 acres of pristine coral reefs, emerald islets and turquoise lagoons, officials said.
Pantanal, Brazil covers an area slightly larger than the state of Florida. It is the world's largest wetland and harbors an extraordinary diversity of species including about 650 species of birds 250 species of fish, as well as jaguars and giant anteaters, officials said.
In San Luis Valley, Colo., the Conservancy recently took a major step forward in protecting the area by purchasing 100,000 acres that compromise the Zapata and Medano ranches
Conservancy "land stewards"are working with local advisors to ensure that the newly acquired ranch land remains a community asset, benefitting both the local economy and the ecology of the valley. There, bison herds share space with spiderflowers and rare tiger beetles in this vast high-elevation basin flanked by the jagged peaks of the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains, officials said.