Philanthropist Hansjorg Wyss has helped conservation groups close a deal to purchase vast tracts of Plum Creek Timber Co. land in western Montana. His contribution of $35 million helped the group meet the purchase target. Thanks to his quiet donation, one million acres (400,000 hectares) will be protected from future development.
The 75 year old billionaire runs a medical equipment company (Synthes) with a net worth of $6.1 billion. As a college student he toured the region in 1958 and has frequently come on hiking and climbing trips. It is during such trips he fell in love with the natural splendor of the region. He has also worked here in a summer job with the Colorado highway department during a break from college.
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, he said about his philanthropy –
“Look, these are beautiful landscapes. 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.”
Hansjorg Wyss is not a whimsical donator by any means. His largest donation amounted to $125 million for setting up a bioengineering institute at Harvard University, his alma mater.
Many people buy up large tracts of land, but his case is noteworthy because all that land won’t turn into a super-exclusive private playground but will be turned over to the U.S. Forest Service and Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department. Also, the 310,000 acres (125,500 hectares) of former Plum Creek land would help consolidate the area from a mish-mash of private and public land into a single entity which can be easily managed by the above departments.
The land deal is probably the largest purchase for a conservation project and it wouldn’t have come about without Wyss’ help. His initial donation of $25 million brought in other donors and when there was a shortfall, Wyss again chipped in withn$10 million.
As Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer says of him,
“Near as I can tell, he (Wyss) is a citizen of the planet that was interested in protecting some of its last best places.”