1981 – Three University of Colorado students, George Gann, Robert Heinzman, and Corbett Hall, trek to Gates of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to explore one of America’s last real wilderness areas. While there, above the Arctic Circle, drinking rum on the summer solstice, listening to wolves howl at a midnight sun, the most obvious possible conclusion comes to them: they must go canoeing in the Amazon Basin of Brazil.
1984 – Gann, Heinzman, and Hall, together with friends and family, form the Kuja Sni Research Group, Inc. (KSRG) as a non-profit organization to investigate the interaction between environment and development in wilderness areas such as the Amazon. Bryce Wildcat, a staffer with the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, provides the phrase “Kuja Sni” which, in Lakota Sioux, means never sick, a reference to the group’s vision of environmental health.
1985 – Non-profit status with the US Internal Revenue Service. After four years of planning, a seven member team of former University of Colorado students and friends embark on the Amazonas ’85 Expedition, a five-month study tour of the Brazilian Amazon. Team members specialize in conservation, geology, political science, anthropology & sociology, and the arts. Every form of transportation, from planes, to public buses, to riverboats and dugout canoes, is utilized to visit areas of the Amazon undergoing rapid development. Thousands of photographs are taken to document the trip.
1987 – Amazonas ’85 team members Heinzman and Robert Ridgeway organize the first of three international rain forest conservation conferences to be held in the United States in 1987 and 1988. Working closely with Randy Hayes of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Heinzman forms the Boulder Rainforest Action Group and holds the conference Tropical Rainforests: Strategies for Wise Management at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Among the 44 speakers, keynote speakers include David Brower of the Earth Island Institute and Ghillian Prance, then of the New York Botanical Garden. KSRG, RAN, and the University of Colorado are the major sponsors.
1988 – Amazonas ’85 team members Gann, Jena Matzen, Donna Shore and Corbett Hall organize the conference Tropical Rainforests: Strategies for Wise Management II: Latin America and the Caribbean at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. During the conference, the Florida Rainforest Alliance, a project of the KSRG, is formed. For the next several years the Boulder Rainforest Action Group and the Florida Rainforest Alliance carry out numerous events in Colorado and Florida to promote tropical rain forest conservation.
1992 – Word is received that Steve Arrowsmith, a wilderness advocate and friend of several KSRG members, passed away at the age of 30 due to the side effects of asthma. Unbeknownst to most, Arrowsmith was modestly wealthy. He names KSRG and several other non-profits working on issues from the environment to women’s rights to the arts as beneficiaries of his estate. The KSRG board convenes a meeting in Guatemala, where Heinzman is working to establish rain forest reserves in the Petén on behalf of Conservation International. At the meeting, it is agreed that the concept of tropical rain forest conservation had been mainstreamed and that the KSRG should focus its energy on grass-roots regional conservation efforts.
1994 – Gann proposes the Floristic Inventory of South Florida and the establishment of The Institute for Regional Conservation (IRC) to design the research methodology and collect the data necessary to develop a comprehensive regional conservation program emphasizing native plants. The KRSG board approves the project.
1995 – The Floristic Inventory of South Florida is initiated and IRC is established as a project of the KSRG. Gann begins baseline research and is hired as KSRG’s first part-time employee. IRC contracts with botanist Keith Bradley to assist with the research. IRC’s first outside collaboration is with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which provides funding for a status review of one of South Florida’s rarest plants following Gann’s discovery of a new population.
1996 – Bradley becomes IRC’s first full-time employee. Initial results of the FISF allow Gann and Bradley to testify to the Florida Endangered Plant Advisory Council – an action that results in the addition of nearly 80 species of plants to the state’s list of endangered and threatened plants in 1997.
1997 – Steve Woodmansee is hired as IRC’s second full-time employee, rounding out the IRC team until 2002. Contract work with the South Florida Water Management District and other outside agencies is initiated. With Robert Heinzman’s help, IRC is featured in the premier issue of the environmental magazine Orion Afield. Gann organizes the 9 th annual meeting of the Society for Ecological Restoration in Fort Lauderdale, an event that draws over 700 participants from around the world. Sessions on Everglades restoration, tropical forest restoration, and regional restoration are held.
2001 – After six years of research, IRC launches the FISF Database Online, an internet resource with plant data on over 200 conservation areas in South Florida. The KSRG board votes to change the legal name of the KSRG to The Institute for Regional Conservation. IRC initiates the Floristic Assessment of Puerto Rico in collaboration with the USDA International Institute of Tropical Forestry in Rio Piedras.
2002 – IRC publishes Rare Plants of South Florida: Their History, Conservation, and Restoration, a 1056 page book outlining the findings of the FISF and containing management recommendations for more than 300 rare plants found in more than 200 conservation areas. The book is followed by six workshops drawing nearly 100 participants from 25 land management agencies. Meanwhile, IRC board member Jena Matzen travels to Colombia with the non-profit group Witness for Peace in an effort to draw attention to the horrific effects of aerial herbicide spraying on both poor people and biodiversity as part of the US war on drugs.
2003 – Full-time staff at IRC is expanded to five as IRC initiates several new projects. Work begins on Natives for Your Neighborhood, a web-based resource that allows home owners to download free information on plants native to their zip code. Cooperative agreements are signed with the USFWS to map imperiled ecosystems in Miami-Dade County and with the National Park Service to monitor and restore rare plant populations on Long Pine Key, a significant area of rare plant diversity in Everglades National Park.
2004 – IRC expands to seven full-time staff and begins adding animal conservation to its programs. Four years of floristic inventory work is completed in Big Cypress National Preserve and Biscayne National Park. The USFWS awards IRC $115,000 to provide management assistance to private owners of pine rockland forests in Miami-Dade County. The Friends of IRC is formed.
2005 – IRC expands to eight full-time staff. After 20 years of service, Jena Matzen steps down from the IRC board of directors and is replaced by Amazonas ’85 team member Donna Shore. IRC's new interactive website Natives For Your Neighborhood is launched.
2006 – The trial wildlife section of Natives For Your Neighborhood is launched. The National Park Service approves a new cooperative agreement including a full time IRC employee stationed inside of Everglades National Park. IRC begins collaboration with Key West Botanical Garden and conducts a conservation assessment of St. George Village Botanical Garden on St. Croix, US Virgin Islands.