Henry Little

Planful Opportunism

Recorded: 4/26/12

Who is a champion of saving pristine lands? Henry Little, that's who. Henry describes his role in the acquisition of the Shasta Big Springs Ranch, a Nature Conservancy project located near Mount Shasta in Northern California.

Henry Little and the Nature Conservancy are responsible for protecting some of the most stunning undeveloped natural resources on earth. At The Nature Conservancy, Mr. Little developed and executed philanthropic real estate practices that have successfully protected myriad natural resource treasures. He is the co-author of ‘Protecting Endangered Forest Birds in Hawaii,’ in which he describes the conservation strategies he used to protect wild species and places in Hawaii. In this video, Mr. Little talks about one of his Northern California land conservation projects, Shasta Big Springs Ranch.

Mr. Little began his 38-year long career at The Nature Conservancy as a Western Field Representative and soon went on to become the Western Regional Director overseeing all of the Conservancy’s activities in 13 Western states, including the development of state programs and the acquisition of large properties. In the early 1980’s Henry lived in Honolulu where he established the Conservancy’s Hawaii State Program. He later moved to Washington DC to serve as Deputy Director and Program Director for the Conservancy’s fledgling international program through which he developed and launched partnerships and programs in Columbia, Venezuela, and Mexico.

Henry Little: There’s a term that I [use, but]–somebody else crafted, it’s called planful opportunism, and that is, you may have designs on something but it isn’t necessarily available, or you can’t find the right contact with somebody so you have to know–you have to be ready when the opportunity presents itself, the point of entry. For example, the last big transaction I worked on, the Busk Ranch, which is this ranch that controls really the cold water source, a big spring source for the Shasta River which is the highest tributary on the Klamath before the Klamath is dammed in a source of cold water, spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead. And there was a couple who owned it and we bought the ranch next door. It was kind of, we wanted their ranch but the next best one, we happened to have an opportunity to buy the one next door and we bought it thinking we were going to meet our neighbors, and we had a lovely picnic. And Rodney started talking about buying our ranch from us–and really we wanted to buy–we were trying to bait the hook for him.

Henry Little: And so we kind of went around in circles for about a year and he even took me up to this lovely overlook on his ranch and talked about wanting to put a mobile home park right along the river. And I thought he was just kind of poking me in my chest to see if I was enough of a man to respond to him, but I think he was actually serious. I mean his idea of a piece of property was to develop it in any–you know, in the worst way imaginable from a conservation standpoint.

Henry Little: I got a call the day before Christmas 2007 or something, maybe 2006, that Rodney had passed away in the summer, one summer. I knew that, and Irene was having some estate problems with Rodney’s estate. So I went up there the day after Christmas and the day after New Year’s, for a week each and probably 6 times between then and mid February to try to seduce Irene into selling her ranch. She didn’t really want to sell it. We lent her a million dollars for a year–for free– in exchange for an option. Now we had to make sure we got a letter of credit so we could go out. We’d get the money from the bank and the bank could chase her around if she didn’t pay us back. But we had an option to buy the property and she regretted it from the moment she signed that option.

Henry Little: And the last big battle was over 750 dollars. We paid her 14.1 million dollars for this property. I met with her in snow storms. I met with her in the cab of her truck where we refused to turn the heat on, I just kept at it. Continuity of effort is huge. Deals that have blown up for me in Hawaii, somebody did 10 years later, learning what their aspirations are, their desires are, and figuring out how to present your offering in a way that meets their needs. They’re not worried about your needs. They’re worried about their needs.