This year marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation.  In looking back over three decades, I am struck by the tangible impact and extraordinary hopefulness of the Foundation’s work around the world.

In the late 1980s, Liz and Art were well ahead of their time in envisioning the need for wildlife habitat beyond national parks and protected areas.  Few recognized back then the critical role that local communities must play in the protection of large landscapes, and the importance of addressing people’s needs and aspirations alongside those of nature. 

Liz and Art’s generosity helped launch many innovative and successful projects from East Africa to India, and Southeast Asia to the Americas. Whether in Madagascar, Sumatra or the northern Rockies, they recognized a universal truth – that people and nature must find a way to thrive in harmony if either is to survive in the future.

There have been many notable successes over the years. From ground-breaking conferences to scores of innovative field-based projects, the Foundation has helped people make a tangible difference in the protection of important landscapes and wildlife.  In the Yaak Valley of northwest Montana to the borderlands region of Kenya and Tanzania, talented leaders have helped inspire and mobilize their communities to create a brighter and more sustainable future. 

This kind of dialogue, based on real respect and engagement of all perspectives, is at the heart of community-based conservation.  It can be hard and sometimes slow work, but at this moment in time, the importance of amplifying the voices of regular citizens and the less powerful in public debates is especially apparent.

Of course, huge challenges remain in every place we work.  Rapidly increasing numbers of people and livestock are stressing many ecosystems, especially in Africa where changing weather patterns are exacerbating cyclical droughts.  Ill-conceived development plans and weak regulations – or in some places a roll-back of existing environmental laws – make it that much harder to sustain healthy ecosystems.   The Foundation therefore also supports organizations that advocate for sound environmental policies in those places where we invest.

In some places, there are even more ominous risks. Last fall, as we celebrated the decision of China to close its ivory markets, we were shocked by the murder of Wayne Lotter, founder of the PAMS Foundation.  PAMS’ brave and highly effective work to identify and convict corrupt ivory traffickers in Tanzania made Wayne a target.  But the work of PAMS and similar organizations continues unabated, and the tide is turning ever-faster against the illegal trade in wildlife. 

Liz and Art are no longer with us, but I know that they would be undaunted by these challenges, and would urge us to redouble our efforts.  In fact, they are making that possible through a generous bequest from Art Ortenberg’s estate, which will increase the Foundation’s grant budget significantly over the next few years. 

As we enter the new year, we look forward to growing the impact of the Foundation’s work even further, guided by the unwavering belief in the power of communities working together to make the world a better place for both people and wildlife.

- Kent W. Wommack

About Us

The Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation is dedicated to the survival of wildlife and wildlands and to the vitality of human communities with which they are inextricably linked. »