Pew Charitable Trusts Program Supports Multifaceted Environmental Research

With the 20th anniversary of Earth Day fresh in mind, Joshua S. Reichert recites a litany of environmental problems that he believes are the most pressing. Renewable energy, population explosion, widespread use of chemicals, disposal of toxic wastes, groundwater contamination, soil erosion, global warming, and ozone depletion are just a few of the many issues that he foresees environmental scientists and conservationists having to tackle in the years ahead. Reichert, who earned his doctorate i

By | April 30, 1990

With the 20th anniversary of Earth Day fresh in mind, Joshua S. Reichert recites a litany of environmental problems that he believes are the most pressing. Renewable energy, population explosion, widespread use of chemicals, disposal of toxic wastes, groundwater contamination, soil erosion, global warming, and ozone depletion are just a few of the many issues that he foresees environmental scientists and conservationists having to tackle in the years ahead.

Reichert, who earned his doctorate in anthropology at Princeton University, is director of the conservation and the environment program of the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Philadelphia-based Trusts consists of seven individual funds, which were founded between 1948 and 1979 by the surviving children of Joseph N. Pew, founder of the Sun Oil Co. The philanthropic organization supports a variety of interests, including cultural events, education, health and human services, public policy, and religion, as well as environmental studies. In keeping with the founders' wishes, the Trusts awards grants to nonprofit organizations that "improve the quality of life for people and communities, and encourage personal growth and self-sufficiency."

The conservation and the environment program is a relatively small part of the Trusts; grants in this program made up less than 8 percent of the total funds awarded by the Trusts in 1988, and less than 6 percent in 1989. Yet the program occupies an important niche in the funding ecosystem. Officially named in 1982, the conservation and the environment program seeks to improve the quality of life by supporting work that advances conservation through the development of human and information resources. It also supports programs that tackle environmental issues, especially those that pool various disciplines, such as economic development, resource management, and environmental preservation.

Trust-Initiated Program
To establish a joint research and graduate program on sustainable development of natural and human resources in high-elevation environments; Montana State University, Bozeman.

To develop a new graduate program in conservation biology; University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Critical Research Issues Program
For expansion of the International Species Information System; Chicago Zoological Society, Brookfield, Ill.

For research and training in the design of biological reserves in Central America; RARE Center for Tropical Bird Conservation, Philadelphia.

Leadership Development, Education, and Training Program
To plan a combined program in conservation science and molecular biology; Princeton University, N.J.

For a course in tropical ecology and research fellowships in Costa Rica; Organization for Tropical Studies Inc., Durham, N.C.

In support of a program in environmental leaders education; the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

It's possible that environmental research will receive a greater percentage of the Trusts' money in the years to come. At present, says Reichert, all of the programs sponsored by the Trusts are currently being reorganized. This is the second time in the last several years that the Trusts will undergo some changes (The Scientist, Sept. 19, 1988, page 23). Back in 1988, scientists - Thomas W. Langfitt, a neurosurgeon, and Rebecca W. Rimel, a nurse - were appointed as president and executive director of the Trusts, positions that in the past had been held by business executives. This time around, each program director will present a set of recommendations to the board of directors - recommendations, says Reichert, that will propose new directions and funding interests for the Trusts.

As part of the reorganization scheme, Reichert would like to see more of the Trusts' money earmarked for conservation studies and environmental research. "I would like to see more research funded," he says, adding that not nearly enough research in these fields is being done. But until the directors' recommendations are submitted and approved, he says, "we'll continue to make grants in the areas discussed in the [recently issued] annual report."

Currently, the conservation and the environment program does what it can by supporting projects that fall under three categories: critical research issues; leadership development, education, and training programs; and Trusts-initiated programs. Eligible projects must serve either to educate the public or to protect particular endangered ecosystems, habitats, and species. The types of programs funded, says Reichert, are those that are of particular interest to the Trusts. Frequently, he says, "we get experts in the field to make recommendations to the Trusts."

In the past the Trusts have considered requests for the development of professional and collegiate training programs, internships at various conservation groups, technical assistance for nonprofit conservation societies, training strategies for sustainable development (in agriculture, for example), educational programs in environmental protection and resource management, and biological surveys of particular ecosystems and habitat restoration projects (see accompanying box).

The only Trusts-initiated project currently in the environmental program, begun in 1987 and slated to continue until 1991, supports interdisciplinary graduate training programs in United States universities. The J.N. Pew, Jr., Charitable Trust (one of the seven) committed $2 million to this program. The purpose of the project is to stimulate the integration of conservation and development practices. An example is the University of Arizona's (Tucson) multidisciplinary study on the effects of development on and conservation of dryland forests.

In 1988, the same Trust earmarked $5.5 million for the Pew Scholars Program in Conservation and the Environment. The thrust of this program is to fund young scientists who not only excel in environmental research, but also have the flair to communicate their work to general audiences, and who can encourage others to enter the field as well. Each scholar will receive $150,000 over a three-year period.

"Ten awards will be made this year," says Reichert, who explains that during the past year, a specially convened panel set up the criteria for the scholarship program. Forty-five universities and nonprofit environmental institutions were invited by the conservation and the environment staff and an outside board of advisers to make nominations. Six independent nominators were also asked to identify an additional 24 candidates.

The 1990 invited institutions include the California Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University, the Smithsonian Institution, the Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund. Although the scholars program is slated to make awards in 1990, 1991, and 1992, Reichert says there is the possibility that the program may continue past the last year. "It depends on how it [the program] goes," he says, "as well as the institution's [the Trusts'] priorities."

Support for environmental research in general, however, will definitely be included in the Trusts' activities, says Reichert. "The environment will be the most compelling social and political issue of this decade," he says. "In many cases, it's not a matter of increased research. It takes increased political actions and political will to do something" about the environment.

But scientific research and political change alone won't be enough to solve all of the major environmental problems the world now faces, Reichert cautions. "Culturally and biologically," he says, "people are not programmed to deal with the future. As long as we're okay in the present, we don't think about the future." Before the environment can be restored, he says, "we must be willing to make some fundamental changes in our life-styles, manufacturing processes, and energy uses. We need to fundamentally change the way we live, and we need to do that quickly."

To help bring about that change, the Pew Charitable Trusts will continue to do what it can to support educational, policy-related, and scientific projects in conservation and environmental studies. The Trusts accepts proposals for its environmental program throughout the year. (It should be noted, however, that institutions must be invited to apply for the Trusts-initiated programs.)

Grants are awarded five times a year: February, April, June, September, and December. For more information, contact: Joshua S. Reichert, director, Conservation and the Environment Program, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Suite 501, Three Parkway, Philadelphia, Pa. 19102-1305; (215) 587-4045. For more information about the Scholars Program, contact: James E. Crowfoot, School of Natural Resources, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich. 48109-1115; (313) 936-2556.

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