Schevitz, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
A foundation created by Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore and his wife announced yesterday that it will give a major conservation group $261 million over 10 years, the largest gift ever to an environmental organization.
The gift to Conservation International will support initiatives to slow the extinction of animals and plants and start an ambitious campaign to protect about 400 million acres of tropical forests, or the equivalent of land the size of Alaska.
"As Gordon describes it, he saw nature disappearing in important areas that were once rich with life," Doug McConnell, spokesman for San Francisco's Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, said yesterday. "This is. . . an important statement that this is a truly critical matter."
The gift is Moore's second major contribution to Conservation International, a Washington, D.C., group established in 1987. In 1998, he gave $35 million --which was the largest gift ever to the organization until yesterday -- to start the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science.
Moore, who was not available for comment yesterday, has been actively involved with Conservation International, serving on its board and traveling with the group on research trips. He co-chaired the organization's Nature's End conference held at the California Institute of Technology in August 2000. It was at the conference that the plans for the new initiative were developed.
The gift from Moore's foundation provides seed money for a global conservation fund to protect the highest priority regions of hot spots in 400 million acres, said Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International. He said the grants will help build alliances with other conservation groups and allow the group to try to leverage another $6 billion from public and private sources.
Although the 25 biodiversity hot spots represent only 1.4 percent of the Earth's land mass, they contain 60 percent of the planet's animal and plant species, according to the group.
The new initiative, which will focus initially on the Andes, Madagascar, Brazil, the Guyanas and Melanesia, will provide funds to work with local governments in areas where there are rich biological resources to find alternatives to logging and other environmentally destructive activities that are often seen as the only economic choice for developing countries.
The foundation's gift will help establish 10 new research stations where comprehensive long-term studies on changes in ecosystems can be conducted and then compared from site to site, Mittermeier said. That will allow scientists to recognize early warnings of major shifts.
"It enormously increases the scale in which we are able to operate," Mittermeier said. "It is pretty exciting."
Harvard University biologist Edward Wilson, who co-chaired the Nature's End conference with Moore, said yesterday that the grant is a "breakthrough" gift that will attract more attention to the field.
"This is just the kind of stimulus that is needed to jack up research on conservation biology and biodiversity," he said. "Once it is there and adequately funded, we will get more of our brightest young scientists attracted to the field."
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was established in November 2000 and already had given $300 million in October to the California Institute of Technology, along with a personal gift of $300 million from Moore and his wife.
Yesterday's gift is the largest ever to a single environmental group. In 1998, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation pledged $375 million over five years to protect California's environment.
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