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UW Receives Major Gift to Support Conservation Across Wyoming With Initial Focus on Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

February 15, 2023
squirrel on a log
The impact of red squirrels on forest biodiversity is one of four initial areas of focus for the Jackson Fork Ranch-University of Wyoming Research Project, created through a major gift to UW from Joe Ricketts’ Jackson Fork Ranch. (National Park Service Photo)

The University of Wyoming has announced a major gift from Joe Ricketts’ Jackson Fork Ranch that will support environmental stewardship and conservation across Wyoming, with an initial focus on the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

The substantial donation will fund the Jackson Fork Ranch-University of Wyoming Research Project, which will support the university’s conservation and biodiversity research throughout Wyoming. It will help to increase public awareness of the unique value of biodiversity in the state and will promote the importance of environmental stewardship as an enduring value.

“Despite its incredible variety and importance, our knowledge of biodiversity in Wyoming and the greater Yellowstone ecosystem is incomplete,” says Joe Ricketts, CEO of Jackson Fork Ranch. “Successful long-term conservation requires a systematic baseline of scientific study. I am pleased that Jackson Fork Ranch will collaborate with the exceptional scientists at the University of Wyoming on this important project to inform conservation strategies for generations to come.”

This financial commitment is timely because the wide range of biodiversity in Wyoming is not well studied, especially those lesser-known species that have a disproportionately large impact on ecosystem function and biodiversity.

“This remarkable gift from Joe Ricketts will have a profound impact on the success of our biodiversity programs at the University of Wyoming,” says UW President Ed Seidel. “It allows us to extend our reach, expand our research and make a greater impact on conserving and protecting our precious biodiversity. We are incredibly grateful for this support and are committed to using the contribution to make a positive difference in Wyoming and the world.”

The conservation projects will be led by UW faculty and researchers, with the support of graduate and undergraduate students, and a Wyoming Biodiversity Term Professor will be selected for a two-year term to serve as an ambassador. Initially, projects will be focused on four areas:

-- The first will focus on small- and medium-sized mesocarnivores, which form an important but poorly known component of the state’s fauna and food web.

-- A second focus area will be the ecosystem impact of American beavers.

-- A third study will examine the impact of red squirrels on forest biodiversity. These conspicuous animals store food for winter in large piles of conifer cones and feeding debris called middens. These are biodiversity hotspots for small mammals, birds and insects.

-- Finally, the project will study golden eagles, an iconic avian predator across the western United States. The project will assess the distribution and productivity of these birds by intensive survey routes and the identification and observation of nest sites.

Beginning in 2023, this research will increase the understanding of biodiversity throughout Wyoming by engaging outstanding UW researchers; training the next generation of wildlife conservation biologists; and sharing the research results with the world. This also will grow sustainable conservation tourism in the region.

“This is such an exciting, generous and forward-thinking gift that fosters collaboration to learn more about our lesser-known but impactful wildlife species across the wild and working lands of Wyoming,” says John Koprowski, dean of the UW Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. “The stories that will be revealed promise to inform our conservation and management strategies and to capture the imagination of Wyomingites and our many visitors.”

The Jackson Fork Ranch and the Ricketts Conservation Foundation work with private and public agencies to study, protect and enhance the populations of at-risk species while working to understand how lands can be sustainably managed for the future.

The Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources advances the understanding and resolution of complex environmental and natural resource challenges, with a diverse faculty undertaking novel approaches to environmental and natural resource questions in a range of fields. Programs for undergraduate and graduate students emphasize critical thinking, collaborative problem-solving and interdisciplinary approaches in environmental systems science, sustainability, outdoor leadership, environmental law and more.

“Private giving is a vital part of the fabric of UW and has a wonderful impact on our ability to provide an exceptional education to our students,” says John Stark, UW Foundation president and CEO. “We are thrilled to welcome a new relationship with Joe Ricketts in UW’s vision and commitment to excellence, and we look forward to the exciting project that will come from this new collaboration.”

Ricketts is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded the online brokerage firm TD Ameritrade. In addition to supporting the work of UW, Ricketts founded and leads the Opportunity Education Foundation, the Cloisters on the Platte Foundation, the Ricketts Conservation Foundation and the Ricketts Art Foundation. Ricketts lives in Little Jackson Hole in western Wyoming. He and his wife of 60 years, Marlene, have four children and 14 grandchildren.

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