Environment: Conservation's Best-Kept Secret

Protecting land the businesslike way -- by buying it

To eager developers, Big Bend conjured up visions of condos and tennis courts: 64,000 acres of wetlands stretching along 60 miles of the Gulf Coast of Florida. Hardwood hammocks, saw grass, palms, brackish scrub. Teeming with many exotic -- as well as threatened and endangered -- species such as alligators, manatees, green turtles and bald eagles. Probably the largest plot of undeveloped private property left in the East.

Big Bend's owner, Buckeye Cellulose, a subsidiary of Procter & Gamble, was asking a steep price. But the coveted land did not end up in the hands of a wealthy developer. It was...