Wilderness Society sheds 17 percent of staff, seeks new president

Thanks to Matthew Koehler for hearing about this and to another friend for pointing me to Greenwire.

From E&E News here.

Wilderness Society sheds 17 percent of staff, seeks new president

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

Published: Friday, November 18, 2011

The Wilderness Society, one of the nation’s largest public lands advocacy groups, this week cut about 17 percent of its workforce, a reflection of challenging economic times for nonprofits.

The staffing change comes shortly after the group’s president, William Meadows, announced he will transition out of his position over the next year to become a counselor until a new president is chosen.

The Washington, D.C.-based group, which currently runs on a $26.7 million annual budget, cited reduced donations amid a sluggish economy as one reason for the cuts.

“The Wilderness Society, like so many other organizations, has been feeling the effects of a down economy, creating budget pressures,” said spokeswoman Kitty Thomas. “The recent staff reduction is part of the normal course of business to make sure we are running efficiently and well positioned for the future.”

The group’s latest federal filing indicates that contributions and grants fell from $32 million in 2009 to $20 million in 2010, a change the group largely attributed to one pledge it received in 2009 to be used over three years. Expenses exceeded revenues by about $7 million in 2010.

Total staff numbered 224 in October 2010, according to the filing, which includes interns and double counts of some employees who had been replaced, Thomas said. The group this week reduced its permanent staff from 187 to 155.

Thomas said the group — with offices in Denver; Bozeman, Mont.; and Boise, Idaho, among other locations — will continue its focus on protecting wild lands, as well as promoting site-appropriate renewable energy development and conservation funding.

The group will deepen its administrative work on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management wild lands to maximize land protections, she said. Recently, it has fought to defend federal support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and pass several wilderness proposals in Congress, while defending a Republican push to overturn millions of acres of roadless protections.

The group is also a frequent plaintiff in lawsuits challenging Obama administration decisions to allow drilling in sensitive waters or development on scenic or wildlife-rich lands.

“In just the last month we have contributed to some important victories, including a big win in the courts for roadless forests and the designation of a new national monument,” Thomas said. “We continue to focus on our vital mission to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places.”

The group reported capital reserves and endowment investments at all-time highs of $26 million in 2010, due in part to generous pledges in 2009 by donors who significantly increased giving despite the economic downturn. It listed more than 500,000 members and supporters in 2010, a more than 25 percent increase over two years ago.

Meadows, who has served as president since 1996, told the group’s governing council of his plans to leave his post at the board’s annual meeting in West Virginia in September.

“This is a change I have been planning for the last two years,” Meadows said. “In the coming months, I am committed to ensuring a smooth leadership transition for TWS. Once a new president is chosen, I am looking forward to filling a new role as counselor to the organization, where I will remain dedicated to protecting our wild places.”

Meadows is credited for helping the group promote protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and defend the Clinton administration’s sweeping rule to protect 58.5 million acres of roadless forests. He is also credited for achieving permanent protection for more than 5 million acres of wilderness nationwide, among other accomplishments.

The change at TWS comes shortly after the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, announced it would remain independent despite drawing most of its funding from energy companies including Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Entergy Corp. (Greenwire, Nov. 9).

The new Center for Climate and Energy Solutions will retain as much independence as it did when it was 70 percent funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, its president, Eileen Claussen, said.

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