Western Conservation Foundation is an environmentalist group based in Denver that provides grants to like-minded organizations in the western United States. The group informs the public of actions taken by public officials that it claims hurt the natural resources of the West, often putting it at odds with the energy sector.
Some ranchers have accused the foundation of using subversive tactics to get its message across.
The foundation worked in conjunction with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in the conservation of habitats of the lesser prairie chicken in the West. It was the work of such conservationists that helped convince the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider the chicken a threatened species, which greatly restricts where the oil and gas industry can work – with fines as much as $45,000 for disturbing an acre of lesser prairie chicken habitat.
On June 24, 2014, Bill Eikenberry, describing himself as a “third-generation Wyoming rancher,” posted an op-ed in The Hill calling the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the U.S. rule-making proposal “balanced water policy” and criticized the American Farm Bureau Federation’s “misleading” opposition to it. He claimed most of his colleagues were for the proposal. But Range Magazine discovered that Eikenberry had sold his family farm years ago and was funded by the Western Voices Project, a featured funding recipient of the Western Conservation Foundation.
Brandon Cechovic serves as CEO and was paid total compensation of $198,817 in 2014, according to its IRS 990 form. Six other members on staff also earn at least $100,000, according to that document.
Cechovic took the job in 2013 after serving for eight years as the executive director of Washington Conservation Voters, the state of Washington’s environmental establishment lobby.
Chris Killingsworth is the president of the board of directors. She also serves on the board of directors of the Conservation Lands Foundation, and is vice president of the Wyss Foundation, another group focusing on environmentalist policy in the American West. She previously worked for the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Interior.
The foundation doesn’t report its donors, as is permitted under federal tax law, but some funders have been identified through other filings. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation gave $2.5 million in 2014, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation gave $500,000 and the Wyss Foundation provided about $3 million total from 2007-2009.
Recent grant recipients have included Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited, Organizers in the Land of Enchantment and the labor-union-aligned Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. The foundation reported on its 2015 IRS 990 form giving to such left-leaning groups as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington ($5,000), Common Cause Foundation ($5,000), Environment America ($31,000) and Hispanic Access Foundation ($238,164).