Wyss Foundation: Grants for Environmental Conservation

OVERVIEW: The Wyss Foundation embodies its founder's love for the landscapes of the American West, keeping a lookout for western land areas to protect and well-placed partner organizations to help protect them.

IP TAKE: Although proposals are accepted by invitation only, conservation programs that have solid funding, strong partnerships, and work in western states stand a chance of getting a call from Wyss. While it funds land conservation work to protect the American West, it also funds work to conserve landscapes on the East Coast.

PROFILE: Established in 1998, the Wyss Foundation is dedicated to “supporting innovative, lasting solutions that improve lives, empower communities, and strengthen connections to the land.” Growing up in Switzerland, Hansjörg Wyss was never very far away from the mountains. So when he flew to Colorado in 1958 for a summer job between semesters of college, he felt an instant connection with the Rockies, one that he deepened while hiking and exploring their slopes in his free time. Ultimately, the foundation works to protect “iconic Western landscapes.” The foundation maintains three programs: Land, Communities, and Discovery.

The foundation’s Land program has worked to preserve “20 million acres of land in the American West and more than 5 million acres internationally.” These lands have been conserved for future generations to explore and enjoy. These lands are now conserved in perpetuity for current and future generations to enjoy and explore. Wyss's track record includes facilitating the transfer of 310,000 acres of woodlands in Montana from the Plum Creek Timber Land Company to the state government and the U.S. Forest Service, as part and parcel of a larger designation of one million acres of Montana forest land as exempt from future development. Wyss allocated $35 million toward the land buy, which was facilitated through the joint efforts of the Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Also, the foundation offers a Fellows and Scholars program, which invests in graduate research in order to propel “a new generation of leaders in western land conservation.” Wyss Scholars receive the opportunity to learn the “latest in conservation law and policy and apply that knowledge in careers at land management agencies and nonprofit conservation groups.” Wyss only awards scholarships to students currently enrolled at one of six host schools, which includes Yale, University of Michigan, University of Montana, University of Colorado, Northern Arizona University, and Lewis and Clark College.

Grants range from thousands to millions of dollars. Awards prioritize projects that conserve Western U.S. landscapes, which includes Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. However, past eastern U.S. habitat areas have benefited from Wyss largesse, too. The foundation gave Trout Unlimited and other partners grants in recent years to restore and reconnect a thousand-mile stretch of Maine's Penobscot River to serve as spawning areas for the resident salmon. Wyss has also supported the Open Space Institute for its landscape restoration and beautification programs in New York. Earthjustice has also received recurring grants, as has the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council. As is often necessary in large-scale conservation efforts, Wyss carries out most of its large projects in collaboration with non-profit partners and with local, regional, or federal government agencies. Its leadership strives for large-scale land saves wherever possible, and those usually take buy-in from multiple stakeholders to achieve. More commonly, when Wyss decides to fund an organization, it funds it for the long haul. It will give its beneficiaries recurring gifts on a year-after-year basis as continuing support, program-development capital, research funds, and seed money.

Wyss's beneficiaries tend to be well-established and well-connected conservation operations that can claim committed partners within their regions' private and public sectors. All have something else in common: Wyss contacted them first. The foundation does not accept unsolicited grant proposals. Its grants are, as the website states, "by invitation only."

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