Funding Areas - Program Descriptions

Domestic Biodiversity Program

The Weeden Foundation’s geographic and programmatic interests have many facets reflecting the diverse convictions of its directors. However, a few general themes pervade. Central to these is the conservation of unique western terrestrial and aquatic habitat.  Much of the abuse in the Western United States occurs on public lands, reservoirs of biodiversity and a legacy for all Americans, even when they occur on private land they frequently violate the public trust through externalities such as air and water pollution.

Foundation habitat protection grants have concentrated on the Pacific Northwest, that is Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, and up into British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. This reflects a longstanding interest in coastal temperate forests, which also extends into the Southern Hemisphere of the Americas. In addition, some grants have been awarded to projects in the intermountain west, notably the northern Rockies. Currently, the Foundation has few grants specific to the state of Montana. However, aside from Montana, the intermountain west is of secondary interest to the Foundation and grants here are the exception rather than the rule.

Targeted habitats include mature forest ecosystems, riparian corridors, and riverine/aquatic environments of demonstrated ecological significance. Target recipients are frequently those groups that (a) have a strong base of activist support, (b) provide unique services or information (legal, scientific, technological, or skills-based), or (c) serve as organizational models by providing genuinely unusual and effective approaches to natural resource conservation, coupled with a willingness and enthusiasm for sharing and promoting those approaches.

Given the Foundation’s diverse interests and notwithstanding the above, it is sometimes easier to state what is of little interest to the trustees.  These include: marine conservation issues, large national environmental groups, preservation of what is frequently called the "working landscape", museums, capital construction, animal rights, growth management, toxic contamination, films and videos, wildlife rehabilitation, government-based projects, faith-based organizations, solid waste, energy (with the exception of dams), universities, student fellowships, and basic scientific research.

International Biodiversity Program

Since its inception the Weeden Foundation has had a strong interest in conservation work internationally.   Roughly 30%- 40% of total annual grant expenditure goes to projects outside of the United States, a percentage range that has not changed significantly in over a decade. This global perspective came about partly through a recognition that most of the planet’s biodiversity is found elsewhere, coupled with an understanding that an American conservation dollar goes much further when spent on the ground in Chile or Russia. To the Weeden trustees, these opportunistic conditions far outweigh the risks typically associated with international grantmaking.

General approaches and targeted natural systems for international grantmaking are not substantially different from those in the domestic program and include mature forest ecosystems, riparian corridors, and riverine/aquatic environments of demonstrated ecological significance. There is also a strong orientation towards facilitating the designation—and enhanced management—of protected areas, including national parks and private reserves.


Baker River, Chile. Photo - Benjamin Witte, Santiago Times

Exclusions from Weeden Foundation international grantmaking include: marine conservation issues, large international groups, agroforestry, museums, capital construction, growth management, toxic contamination, films and videos, wildlife rehabilitation, faith-based organizations, government-based projects, solid waste, energy (with the exception of dams), universities, student fellowships, and basic scientific research. In addition, the Foundation has strong geographical preferences as described below.

Within Latin America, the Foundation is most active in supporting groups in Chile, where threats to native forests and wild rivers are substantial.  Most grants are made directly to Chilean non-profits, but where appropriate or necessary the Foundation supports cross-fertilizing partnerships with U.S. environmental groups. Major industrial threats to Chilean wildlands come from U.S.-based wood fiber corporations, international aluminum and mining companies, and multinational hydroelectric consortioms.

The Foundation also has an interest in the tropical lowlands of Bolivia, where in 1987 in partnership with Conservation International, the Foundation financed the first debt-for-nature swap giving protection to approximately 3.7 million acres of tropical forests and grasslands.  In addition, since 1993 the Foundation has owned El Refugio Huanchaca, a private conservation holding comprising 125,000 acres of dry tropical forest and savanna adjacent to Noel Kempff Mercado National Park. The site is currently a base for arboreal, mammal, and ornithological research.


Altai - 2007. David Gordan, Pacific Environment

Lastly, since the late 1980s, the Weeden Foundation has had a strong regional interest in Russia, particularly central Siberia.  At the time it was created and on into the early 1990s, the program supported a number of natural resource planning and capacity building efforts in the Lake Baikal region and the Amur River basin, more recently it has focused on the Altai region of south central Siberia. The small, semi-autonomous Altai Republic boasts Russia’s second highest mountain range (home to several Red Book species), headwaters of its longest river, and extensive pine forests that are the genetic precursor to Siberia’s massive expanse of related softwood species.  Given Russia’s current economic crisis and the shortage of reliable financial institutions in Siberia, funding in the Altai region is currently restricted to organizations working closely with U.S. partners.

It should be noted that funding outside of these two priority regions of Chilean Patagonia and the Altai Republic is rare.

Land Acquisition Program

The Weeden Foundation made its first grant to acquire threatened biologically diverse habitat in 1983, and over the next decade has supported on average two to three land acquisition projects per year. While efforts were initially aimed at domestic sites, the Foundation soon came to realize that even with a growing investment portfolio its ability to support the purchase of critical habitat in the United States was severely constrained by high land values.   As a result, the late 1980s saw a shift in emphasis to international target sites, mostly in Latin America.

In addition to the debt-for-nature swap and private reserve acquisition in Bolivia, the Foundation has funded projects in Chile, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Belize, and Namibia.  However, preferential priority for future acquisition lies in those countries where the Foundation is most active. Land acquisition proposals are evaluated based upon the following criteria: documented strategic importance to regional biodiversity, local and regional conservation context, leverage, degree of threat, community impacts, and long term stewardship or other appropriate exit strategies.

Population Program

Population growth, both within the U.S. and abroad, is pushing—or has surpassed—the limits of sustainability; it remains a major factor in the alarming decline of global biodiversity, and threatens the quality of life we seek for ourselves, our descendants, and all people of the planet. The Foundation supports high leverage population projects with advocacy components to influence policy makers and opinion leaders. Additionally, our funds have supported the creation of educational materials, site-specific demonstration projects (frequently near biological reserves), and innovative media approaches to raising awareness about family planning and reproductive health both in the U.S. and abroad. Over the past decade, the Foundation has also supported efforts in Nepal, Mexico, and across Latin America to promote reproductive rights and create better access to reproductive health services.

While primarily viewed as a global issue, population growth is equally problematic within the U.S. which is growing faster than any other industrialized nation and which could reach 500 million people (if current trends continue) by the year 2050. The Foundation’s primary domestic population objective is for the U.S. to respond directly the directives of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development by adopting a national policy dealing effectively and equitably with all sources of U.S. population growth, including immigration, and leading towards population stabilization in the near future. Cultivating support among environmental and population organizations for such a policy is among our top grantmaking priorities. The Foundation has funded projects to: advocate for increased federal funding of family planning clinics (Title X), conduct sprawl studies that break out population growth as an important driver of sprawl; and, promote immigration reduction on the basis of environmental concerns.

Given the Foundation’s diverse interests and notwithstanding the above, projects of little interest to the trustees include: capital construction, standard reproductive health service delivery programs, films and videos, STD/AIDS prevention, government-based projects, universities, student fellowships, and basic scientific research.

Geographically, only rarely has the Foundation made international population grants to locations outside its target region of Latin America. Currently the Foundation is supporting a group of grants that aim to opportunistically promote reproductive rights across the Latin American region.

Consumption Program

While the Foundation made several energy conservation grants more than fifteen years ago, promoting sustainable consumption patterns has only recently become a high priority. This new emphasis is largely the result of a fuller understanding of the factors driving biological impoverishment, in particular the rapid pace with which U.S. industrial corporations must exploit resources all over the globe to supply the insatiable American consumer.

U.S. consumption levels—of wood fiber, fossil fuels, and minerals—far outweigh other industrialized nations with comparable standards of living and greater life expectancies. This tells us our use of these resources is inefficient, and that the costs of production are either being subsidized, externalized, or most likely both.

We have been lucky to embrace the issue at a time when several new provocative and related efforts are emerging. Among these, the Foundation’s interests are centered upon a new and rapidly growing movement to challenge and redirect American consumer and consumption habits. In particular, the Foundation has chosen to build upon its historical interest in native forest conservation by supporting projects aimed at promoting greater efficiency in the use of wood products, particularly paper. This includes encouraging a concerted shift away from wood fiber as a resource where other equally adequate and less damaging substitutes exist. Currently, the Foundation is focusing on the area of sustainable paper consumption and production. Grantmaking in this area aims to expand the market for environmental papers through consumer-targeted education and efforts directed at the book & magazine publishing industries and corporate & government procurement practices.

Recently, the Foundation established a new consumption program interest that recognizes the importance of integrating the concept of sustainability into K-12 education. The initial grants have incorporated the ecological footprint and similar tools to achieve a fuller, more integrated curriculum that connects population growth, over-consumption, environmental degradation, and biological limits. The Foundation is particularly interested in projects that are designed to “scale-up” quickly through cost-effective, high-leverage mechanisms such as teacher development training.

As with the Foundation’s other grant programs, there are several categories within the consumption program area that rarely receive fuding. These include: capital construction, museums, films and videos, government-based projects, student fellowships, basic scientific research, large national environmental organizations, recycling and solid waste programs, and toxics. In addition, the Foundation retains its general favoritism for projects in the western United States and international focus areas, Chile and the Altai Republic.