A Wyoming billionaire has revealed he plans to donate $1 billion to conserving public lands and oceans over the next 10 years.
Hansjörg Wyss, a Wilson resident, announced his intentions in a New York Times opinion piece titled, “We have to save the planet. So I’m donating $1 billion.”
He wrote that the additional money will accelerate the preservation of land and water in a way that protects them but also keeps them open to the public. His donation is part of a goal to protect 30 percent of the planet’s surface by 2030 in order to prevent many plant and animal species from going extinct. His inspiration, according to his op-ed, comes from places like Yellowstone National Park.
“We need to embrace the radical, time-tested and profoundly democratic idea of public-land protection that was invented in the United States, tested in Yellowstone and Yosemite, and now proven the world over,” he wrote.
Conservation groups in Wyoming were supportive and hopeful that the prospect of more resources could mean more conservation of wild spaces.
“What really underscores this right now, is that each year we’re learning more and more about the importance of maintaining the connectivity of landscapes and critical wildlife habitat,” said Dustin Bleizeffer, communications director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council.
Bleizeffer also stressed the economic and cultural value of intact public land.
More than half of Wyoming’s land is public, managed by a combination of federal and state agencies from the National Park Service to the Bureau of Land Management.
A recent study by independent firm Southwick Associates Inc. showed that hunting, angling and wildlife viewing on BLM land alone generated more than $1 billion in salaries and wages in the West. In Wyoming, wildlife-related activities generated more than $88 million in salaries.
“Over the past two decades, my foundation has supported local efforts to protect wild places in Africa, South America, Europe, Canada, Mexico and the United States, donating more than $450 million to help our partners conserve nearly 40 million acres of land and water,” Wyss wrote in his op-ed.
“And just as the Grand Canyon and the Grand Teton national parks have become economic engines in the United States, these new, locally developed protected areas will create jobs, attract visitors and support sustainable economic growth.”
Wyss, 83, was born in Switzerland and graduated from Harvard Business School in 1965. His first experience in the West was working for the Colorado Highway Department in the late ‘50s, according to the Wyss Foundation website. While working in Colorado, he developed a “lifelong love for America’s national parks and public lands.” He moved to Wilson in 2011.
Forbes lists Wyss as the 315th richest person in the world, with a net worth of $5.8 billion. In 2012, Wyss sold his medical device manufacturing company, Synthes, to Johnson & Johnson for $20.2 billion.
“One of the most philanthropic people in the world, Wyss also has charitable foundations with assets of over $2 billion,” Forbes stated in its biography of Wyss.
Wyss started The Wyss Foundation in 1998 to “help ensure that the iconic Western landscapes that inspired him are protected for everyone to experience and explore.”
Since then, the foundation has worked with local communities and nonprofits to protect more than 20 million acres of land in the West, according to the organization’s website.
The foundation contributed $4.25 million to help buy back controversial oil and gas leases in 2013 on 58,000 acres of land in the Hoback Basin in western Wyoming.
“I’m pleased to be able to support a practical, Wyoming solution that — with this milestone — is now a proud American legacy. This is about neighbors and communities coming together to protect an iconic Western landscape, so the Wyoming Range will always remain open for everyone to hunt, fish, hike, and explore,” Wyss said in a press release at the time.
Dan Smitherman, Wyoming state manager for The Wilderness Society, called Wyss’ commitment to protecting the planet unmatched.
“Wyss understands that protecting our wildest public lands for future generations includes protecting landscapes such as the Northern Red Desert from oil and gas drilling, preserving roadless areas across Wyoming, and ensuring our wildlife migration corridors remain intact. I am heartened by his extraordinary personal commitment to conservation.”