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Swiss Billionaire Puts $35 Million into Montana Conservation

A Swiss billionaire enamored with the wild landscapes of the American West has donated $35 million toward one of the largest private conservation land purchases in U.S. history.

Philanthropist Hansjorg Wyss told The Associated Press that he wanted to build a natural legacy people still could enjoy in 100 years. His donations to the Trust for Public Land and Nature Conservancy helped fund the recent purchase of 310,000 acres of timber land in Montana. The land is being transferred to the U.S. Forest Service and Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department.

Wyss’s fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $6.1 billion came largely from Synthes, the medical devices company he ran for three decades and still oversees as chairman.

He has donated to a large range of causes, with the largest single gift apparently a $125 million donation two years ago to create a bioengineering institute at Harvard University.

In an exclusive interview with the Associated Press, Wyss 75, said he first became enamored of the Rocky mountains as a college student who toured the region in 1958. “Look at these beautiful landscapes,”  Wyss said. “There was controversy when Yellowstone National Park was created and when they declared the Grand Canyon as a National Monument. But there are places in the US that must be protected”.

Many billionaires and megamillionaires have come to Montana and decided to claim a piece of it as their own – from media mogul Ted Turner and software entrepreneur Tom Siebel, to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who have all purchased ranches in the state.

Source: The Associated Press • December 12, 2010; Livingston Enterprise

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