Swiss Billionaire Donates $35 Million to Conserve a Million Acres in Montana

Swiss philanthropist Hansj�rg Wyss has donated $35 million to protect an estimated one million acres of land in western Montana from further development, the Associated Press reports.

A coalition of conservation groups spearheaded by the Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land arranged the deal, which includes 310,000 acres of former Plum Creek Timber Company land that is being transferred to the U.S. Forest Service and Montana's Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department. Because the Plum Creek acreage was intermingled in a "checkerboard" pattern with public land, its preservation will keep intact a much larger swath of the so-called Crown of the Continent, a ten-million acre region anchored by Glacier National Park.

Through his Washington, D.C.-based foundation, Wyss provided an initial $25 million gift that spurred participation from other donors. When extra cash was needed to close the deal, the publicity-shy Wyss provided an additional $10 million. Known as the Montana Legacy Project, the purchase also required $65 million from the state of Montana and $250 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While the project has stirred resentment in surrounding agricultural communities, where it is seen as a move to boot ranchers from lands they've stewarded for generations, Wyss was unapologetic. "Look, these are beautiful landscapes," he told the AP. "There was controversy when Yellowstone [National Park] was created and when they declared the Grand Canyon as a national monument. But there are areas in the United States that must be protected."

"Swiss Billionaire Puts $35 Million Into MT Conservation." Associated Press 12/12/2010. "Montana Legacy Project Makes Conservation History." Trust for Public Land Press Release 12/03/2010.