Michael Finley, Turner Foundation

TITLE: President/Treasurer

FUNDING AREAS: Conservation, habitat preservation, and biodiversity

CONTACT: mikef@turnerfoundation.org, 404-681-9900

IP TAKE: With a background in wildlife and habitat management, Finley has a discerning eye for the highest-priority wildlife populations and habitats. As the Turner Foundation's president and treasurer, he supports conservation projects far and wide but keeps a lookout for "core" habitats and for animal populations that are keystone indicators of greater ecosystem health.

PROFILE: Michael (Mike) Finley didn't join the Turner Foundation with the intention of staying around long. In 2001, when he announced that he was leaving his position as Yellowstone National Park supervisor to take up the post of Turner Foundation president, he presented the new job as a relatively brief and final stop before retirement:

I only plan to work another six or seven years and wanted a place where I will have the greatest impact on water, the environment and conservation," he said in a press conference at the time. Those six or seven years ended long ago, however, and Finley is still there and still overseeing the allocation of $10 million or more in grants a year toward conservation and sustainability causes across the globe.

He's still there.

Under his leadership, the foundation is recognized as one of the most accessible funders in the conservation field. In 2011 alone, the Turner Foundation awarded 132 environment grants in total, including 32 pertaining specifically to animals and wildlife. Groups involved in land or wildlife conservation should not let the foundation's celebrity namesake intimidate them—if a group's mission is a good fit for Turner's programs, then it will stand a reasonably strong chance of securing support for it.

The foundation has five principal grant programs, the first of which is Supporting Habitat. Both marine and terrestrial habitats, on private and public lands alike, are within the program's area of concern, with an eye for "ecosystem-based management solutions" and "local projects that serve as real-world case studies." This program places the most emphasis on protecting "functioning ecosystems," a list that includes wildlife corridors, buffer zones, and core, intact habitats. The foundation's wildlife protection efforts, meanwhile, concentrate on the wildlife populations that serve as "keystone indicators of ecosystem health," including migratory birds, far-ranging carnivores, and plants that are high-profile pollinators.

The Turner Foundation also prioritizes some key regions over others. The U.S. states of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Montana, New Mexico, and Alaska all get first consideration. So do any habitats in the following U.S. geographic regions: the Southeastern Coastal Plain (specifically Georgia and South Carolina); the Florida Panhandle and the Red Hills Region of north Florida and southwest Georgia; the Sky Islands region of southwestern New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, and northern Mexico; the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem north to the transboundary Flathead; and south central/southeastern Alaska.

While Finley is no longer employed by Yellowstone, he continues to look out for the park and its surrounding region. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, which advocates for the park's wildlife and encourages sustainable management of park lands, receives grants of $100,000 a year from the Turner Foundation. The Sky Island Alliance, a nonprofit that protects and restores species and habitats in the Sky Island region of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, likewise receives ample Turner Foundation grant assistance.

Conservation efforts outside the United States receive Turner Foundation grants as well. One of the top beneficiaries in recent years has been the Wild Salmon Center, an international conservation organization working to protect salmon ecosystems throughout the northern Pacific, including the northwestern United States, British Columbia, and Russia's Far East provinces. The center incorporates science and strategy into its efforts by researching salmon ecosystems to identify the best and most important ones to protect, and then implementing strategies to protect them. Grants of $100,000 a year from the Turner Foundation have aided the center's initiatives.

North Korea also is an area of interest for Finley. He is a member of the National Committee on North Korea, a coalition of U.S. leaders who call for civil engagement between North Korea and the United States, and he has led an expedition to document the wildlife and fauna of the isolated republic. He and Ted Turner both call for converting the undeveloped land along the Demilitarized Zone into a "peace park" that preserves the land and its wildlife and simultaneously celebrates nonviolence.

The other grant programs are: Sustainable living to support renewable energy, water conservation, and strategies on overall resource use; Healthy Planet and Communities, which combats pollution and the exposure of people or ecosystems to hazardous chemicals; Growing the Movement, which facilitates the mobilizing of new groups and communities on environmental issues; and Community Youth Development, which invests in youth education, mentoring, and career training. Finley has, in addition, formed partnerships with commercial trade associations, including the National Restaurant Association and the National Hotel and Lodging Association, to teach and implement sustainable business practices.

Finley came to the Turner Foundation in 2001 with more than three decades of experience in managing national parks. He was the superintendent of Yosemite National Park, Everglades National Park, and Assateague Island National Seashore before being appointed superintendent of Yellowstone National Park in 1994. In his seven years of overseeing Yellowstone, he led the reintroduction of the park's grey wolf population, helped avert the construction of a nearby mine, and created the Yellowstone Park Foundation, which raised $3 million for the park in its first year alone. He also developed a plan to phase out snowmobiles in Yellowstone, the latter causing him to butt heads with the Bush administration.