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 — and substantial grant awards — from Wyss.
PROFILE: Growing up in Switzerland, Hansjorg 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 naturally felt an instant connection with the Rockies, one that he deepened while hiking and exploring their slopes in his free time.
He carried the memory of those mountains with him through his adult career life. At length, they inspired him to found the Wyss Foundation in 1998, with the express purpose of ensuring that landscapes such as those he'd come to know and love would be around for future generations. To this day, the foundation channels more than $13 million a year in grants toward supporting public parks, nature reserves, and wilderness areas across the continental United States, with the lion's share of projects located in the American West. The Wyss Foundation awards conservation grants through its Land program.
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.
Wyss's conservation outreach includes lavish sums for land buys and the allocation of support funds for community organizations. Also, the foundation offers both a Scholars program to provide education in conservation science and a Fellows program to provide campaign training and experience with partnering organizations.
In all, the Wyss Foundation has invested nearly $200 million into partnerships with communities and fellow nonprofits for land conservation. Its philanthropy has secured long-term protection for a combined 14 million acres of natural land within the western United States.
Western U.S. landscapes remain the Wyss Foundation's primary area of interest. The vast majority of its grants prop up ecosystems in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. But a few 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. And the Open Space Institute has received grants from Wyss over the years for its landscape restoration and beautification programs in New York.
Wildlife-protection efforts also receive substantial Wyss funding. The foundation has given to the Montana Wildlife Federation, the National Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife.
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.
And more than many other foundations, Wyss shows a strong tendency for thinking beyond the singular project. While it has taken part in many one-time land purchases and restoration projects, these form only a small part of its repertoire. 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.
A number of western-based conservation groups count on Wyss for annual grants. And the amounts can run quite large--even upwards of nearly a million dollars.
Some well-known national and international conservation groups are on the receiving end of annual continuing-support grants from Wyss, too. Earthjustice has received recurring grants, as has the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
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."
- Molly McUsic, President