As you might guess we get questions...lots of questions. Many people are interested in a new foundation coming on the scene especially one with such novel beginnings. While much of this information can be found "somewhere" on our website, we thought we would pull together in a single place those questions we get most frequently and take a quick cut at trying to answer each.
Q. Explain again how the Endowment came to be.
A. As best we can tell the Endowment's roots are truly without peer. We were funded with a one-time $200 million infusion of funds that resulted from a settlement of a long-running trade dispute between Canada and the U.S. We were created at the request of the Government of the U.S. with funds actually coming directly from the Government of Canada. The money was part of a $5.4 billion settlement that saw $450 million designated for "meritorious initiatives" in the U.S.
Q. If you have $200 million why haven't you already distributed those funds to needy causes?
A. Of the three organizations that shared in the $450 million that went to not-for-profits, the Endowment is the only one designated as a "true endowment." Thus our $200 million cannot be spent; instead, annual earnings constitute the source of funds to support our programmatic activity.
Q. You no doubt get input and requests from dozens of interests suggesting how the Endowment should go about its program. How do you choose what to fund?
A. Not only have we had lots of input; we've actually solicited it. One of our basic commitments as a public charity is to be open and transparent in all that we do. We've intentionally sought-out input from across the nation. Early on we used two specific means to generate ideas -- an open Internet survey followed with a national workshop to ensure broad based and representative input into the formation of the Endowment's strategic direction. That strategic direction is now set and we are beginning to drill down and fund specific activities that will achieve desired outcomes.
Q. Why won't the Endowment accept unsolicited requests for funds?
A. The Endowment has perhaps the leanest staff model of its peer group – three full-time employees. To adequately address hundreds of unsolicited grant requests would require a much larger staff. But that’s just part of the answer. The Endowment Board has made a commitment to pursue “systemic, transformative and sustainable” change. Such requires a tightly focused approach with a plan to do few things and do them well. The Endowment operates primarily by RFPs (Requests for Proposals) where we state our desired objective or outcome and allow anyone to submit a proposal about how they would go about achieving that end.
Q. The Endowment speaks about sustainable forestry and working forests.
A. First, let’s go to the definition of “sustainable forestry.” Sustainable forestry is founded on the tenets of balancing environmental, social and economic needs and outputs. The Endowment is totally committed to environmental protection in the context of healthy working forests. In developing our programmatic portfolio we are working with a wide range of partners from federal and state natural resources agencies to research institutions to communities and conservation organizations.
For those who like things to be a bit more technical here are two of our key definitions:
Sustainable forestry: the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfill, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic, cultural and social functions, at local, national and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems.
Healthy working forests: forests that maintain the function, diversity, and resiliency of all components and can either produce or have the potential to produce a range of wood-based products, while also serving a broad range of societal needs including recreation, water, wildlife and other ecological services.
Q. Tell us about the Endowment’s Board. Isn’t it made up exclusively of leaders from forest industry?
A. Four of 13 members of the Endowment’s Board have recent experience in the forest industry. Only one person, John Weaver, designated as liaison by the Government of Canada, is directly affiliated with the forest products industry. Duane McDougall, former CEO of Willamette Industries (now retired) was recruited for his leadership skills and financial strengths (a CPA by education); Mack Hogans, (retired from Weyerhaeuser Company) is a forester with a broad range of skills and experiences including heading a company foundation. Two of our number are family forest owners (Peggy Clark of AR and Chuck Leavell of GA). We have a former state forester (Bruce Miles, TX); a consultant to forest investors (Jim Rinehart, CA); a former University Dean and Acting Provost (David Thorud, WA); and three of the nation’s leading experts in rural communities (David Dodson, NC; Karl Stauber, VA; and Mil Duncan, NH). Our Chairman, Dick Molpus of Mississippi, owns and runs a Timber Investment Management Organization. Carlton Owen, the Endowment’s President is a forester and wildlife biologist with industry, not-for-profit and private consulting experience.
Q. We've seen press reports about a group that is challenging the Endowment. What's that about?
A. This stems from a single source, the Washington Forest Law Center (WFLC) in Seattle. WFLC is a public interest law firm involved in a number of challenges regarding public and private lands issues primarily in the Northwest. In the current matter, WFLC purports to represent itself along with three environmental organizations – Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and Conservation Northwest. In an hour-long call on July 3, 2007, WFLC stated their concerns that the Administration had not directed the funds to programs and activities that WFLC deemed priority. WFLC repeatedly demanded “multiple board seats” on the Endowment to ensure that funds would be deployed in keeping with their interests. We made clear that the Endowment Board of Directors had been established in accord with the SLA and that WFLC’s interests would be addressed on a par with those of a multitude of other interested parties. Under no circumstances would the Endowment acquiesce to WFLC’s demand for board seats. WFLC representatives made clear that if their demands were not met, they would leverage press and political support. They’ve made good on those threats to generate attention. WFLC has also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking government documents regarding selection of organizations designated to receive funds under the “meritorious initiatives” section of the SLA. WFLC has followed that request with a FOIA lawsuit against the Administration to obtain additional information. The Endowment is not a party to that litigation.