Wyss Scholar Alumnus: Alex Johnson


After nearly a decade of working seasonally on trail crews across the western US and Alaska, I enrolled in the Environmental Studies program at the University of Montana – Missoula. Upon becoming a Wyss Scholar, I for the first time committed to not only stewarding the incredible public lands of our nation, but also leading advocacy campaigns on their behalf. 

With a background in environmental writing and a certificate in Natural Resource Conflict Resolution from the University of Montana, I moved to western Colorado. There, I began freelancing for environmental publications like High Country News, while also organizing communications and defense campaigns for the Western Slope Conservation Center, a regional grassroots organization. After a few years with the organization, I was hired on as the Executive Director and served in that role for nearly four years. During that time, I co-founded the Leadership Council of the Friends Grassroots Network, which includes grassroots organizations that work on protecting spectacular Bureau of Land Management lands across the intermountain West. During my time with the Western Slope Conservation Center, we doubled our membership, successfully defended the landscapes of the North Fork of the Gunnison from expansive oil and gas lease sales, and raised the profile of the landscape across the country with diverse local, regional, and national partners.

Most recently, I have taken on the new challenge of protecting the national parks and preserves in Alaska as the Alaska Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. It’s a fantastic opportunity to use all of the skills, education, and experience I’ve gained over my career to make lasting impacts on some of the largest intact ecosystems on Earth. 

Without the Wyss Scholar program, I may not have had the skills, confidence, or financial freedom to step up into leadership positions within the conservation community. Building a career in the field takes a lot of guts, dedication, inspiration, and support from a network of friends, family, and colleagues. I am grateful for the opportunity that the Wyss Scholar program has provided, and I am glad it will be continuing to cultivate leaders for this historic moment for the West.

Wyss Scholar Alumna: Diana Portner

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Diana at Mendenhall Glacier

I still remember the morning I received the exciting news that I was to become a Wyss Scholar. At that time, several years ago now, I was early in my graduate school career at University of Michigan, and not quite sure of the path ahead. One thing I was sure of, though, was that I wanted to make an impact on the landscape that I spent my childhood summers exploring – the intermountain west. I experienced first-hand the intensity of conflict that can surround public land management, and I knew in my heart that the best way to make a positive impact was to work directly with the people that call those places home.

Since that time, I have honed my skills to find place-based solutions for land management decisions through my role as a mediator (and now senior mediator) at Meridian Institute (www.merid.org). Meridian plays a unique and essential role in conflict – we help people, who may not know each other, and often do not trust one another, work together to agree on and implement solutions to complex and controversial issues. In that role, I have had the privilege to work with federal and state land management agencies across the American West to help diverse stakeholder groups communicate with each other to move beyond conflict and find solutions that ultimately benefit all involved.

My entry into the world of collaborative problem-solving was in large part due to the benefits of being a Wyss Scholar. The year that I was accepted as a scholar, I helped organize an event that brought together past Wyss Scholars and Doris Duke Fellows, and the keynote speaker was none other than one of Meridian Institute’s founding partners. With that initial exposure to spark my interest, I launched my journey via a summer internship assisting a fledgling conservation partnership in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. Funded by the internship stipend from the Foundation, I had the freedom to explore what it means to serve as a third-party convener, while helping the partnership to define its mission, goals, and potential path forward. 

While today I work on a wide range of substantive issues at Meridian, I often gravitate back to conflict surrounding public land management and the impacts on neighboring communities. Through my facilitation role, I work with stakeholders to build relationships with each other and express their underlying interests, often uncovering a common, shared vision for the future. As an illustrative example, I have been working with a group in Southeast Alaska to explore new approaches to timber management on national forest lands. Even when the group members find themselves in stark opposition, they come back to their common desire to find solutions that worked not only for themselves and their organizations, but for current and future generations of Alaskan residents and communities.

As our country continues to face uncertainty and political discord regarding how to manage our public resources, I often think about how such a shared vision can serve as the glue holding a group together, ultimately leading to solutions for our public lands that can stand the test of time.


The Wyss Scholars Program supports the graduate-level education of a new generation of leaders in western land conservation. Wyss Scholars learn the latest in conservation law and policy and apply that knowledge in careers at land management agencies and nonprofit conservation groups. Wyss Scholarships are awarded to students currently enrolled at one of the six host schools.

The Wyss Scholars Program covers up to half of the tuition and expenses of getting a Masters degree or a third of the tuition and expenses of getting a Law degree. Half of the award is made during the Masters or Law Program, and the remainder is available for Scholars who enter qualifying employment. Scholars are also awarded up to $5,000 to cover their summer internship to provide conservation work experience.

The Wyss Scholars Program also provides access to a broad community of current and past Scholars–people who share an interest and passion for conservation and are working to protect western landscapes.

For the purposes of the Wyss Scholars Program, the American West is defined as Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, or Wyoming.  The application process for the 2019 cohort of Wyss Scholars will begin next Fall. Please check with the program coordinator at your school for more information.

Our Schools

Lewis and Clark College

Northern Arizona University
Environmental Science and Policy


University of Colorado

University of Michigan

School for the Environment and Sustainability

University of Montana

Environmental Studies Program
College of Forestry and Conservation

Yale University

School of Forestry and Environmental Studies


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Wyss Scholar

Eric Dude

I am honored to be Colorado Law’s inaugural Wyss Scholar! I wanted to be a Wyss Scholar because I was excited at the opportunity to be part of a community that strives to carry the torch on issues affecting western public lands.  I have been a beneficiary of the public lands in my home state of Colorado my entire life. As such, I entered law school with the full intention to spend my career protecting them—and others like them across the West. The Wyss Foundation has played a huge role in helping me realize that goal. 

Currently, I am writing a note on Congress’ decision to use the Congressional Review Act to kill “Planning 2.0”—a major proposed update to the BLM’s land planning process—for the Colorado Natural Resources, Energy, and Environmental Law Review (https://www.colorado.edu/law/research/journals/colorado-natural-resources-energy-environmental-law-review ). I am also working as a student attorney for Colorado Law’s American Indian Law Clinic (https://www.colorado.edu/law/academics/clinics/american-indian-law-clinic ) on issues centering on natural resource extraction projects affecting indigenous land.

In the future, I hope to find a way to help foster dialogue between government agencies, conservation groups, and local stakeholders to create workable, conservation-minded solutions to the unique problems that confront the vast western public lands system. I feel that it is critical to do so while we still have so much public land available to us.

I look forward to spending my career working in the public interest sector to conserve our public lands, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”


Wyss Scholar

Lowell Chandler

As a Wyss Scholar at the University of Montana Law School, I am extremely proud to be part of a community of leaders focusing on protecting the lands of the Intermountain West. While growing up in the Mojave Desert and later in the Northern Rockies, I gained a deep appreciation and love for the Intermountain West. This love drove me to attend law school so I could become a better advocate in the fight to protect our cherished lands and environment. The incredible support from the Wyss Foundation has reinforced and reinvigorated my plan to work at an environmental law non-profit after law school.

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My current work focuses on environmental law issues throughout the West. As a member of the University of Montana’s Public Land & Resources Law Review, I regularly write case summaries focused on topics such as the Endangered Species Act and the Pygmy Owl, the National Environmental Policy Act and coal mining proposals in Montana, and a forthcoming summary of a recent Ninth Circuit decision expanding the Clean Water Act’s reach. Additionally, I currently serve on the board of the Montana Environmental Information Center, and this summer I will be working with Earthjustice in their Northern Rockies office in Bozeman.

My commitment to and excitement for a career in environmental law and protection is unwavering. In the future, I plan to use the tools I am currently learning, such as collaborative conflict resolution techniques, negotiation, and, when needed, litigation to help achieve necessary protections of the West. When I’m not studying, you can usually find me in the woods, on the river, or strumming my guitar!


Wyss Scholar

Sophia Cinnamon

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I am incredibly appreciative and enthusiastic about my selection as a 2018 Wyss Scholar! I pursued the scholarship as I felt the Wyss Foundation’s strong commitment to protecting vulnerable Western landscapes closely aligned with my academic and professional work. The Wyss Scholar opportunity will provide me the opportunity for professional mentorship and development coupled with generous financial support, allowing me to further develop my skills as a facilitative leader and conservation professional.

My work is focused on natural resource conflict resolution and environmental justice—particularly around water in the West. I am currently serving as Project Coordinator with the Center for Natural Resources & Environmental Policy to convene a multi-party dialogue on the future of the Columbia River Treaty. This coming summer I will be working with The Nature Conservancy in Southwest Colorado on collaborative stakeholder facilitation and water management in the San Juan Basin.

I am deeply committed to developing solutions to complex, Western resource conflicts and advocating for environmental justice in marginalized Western communities. The Intermountain West is my home, and I want to protect its wild places. In my free moments, you can find me exploring Montana’s vast public lands.


Wyss Scholar

Cooper Rodgers

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I am excited about being the 2018 Inaugural Wyss Scholar at Lewis and Clark University Law School.  I wanted to be a Wyss Scholar because I was ready to fully commit to non-profit, public interest legal work, and the Wyss Scholarship will help turn that goal into a reality.  Although I have always been interested in protecting the environment and our public lands, law school has helped me to find my niche. I was excited to see that the Wyss Foundation shares the same values I do, along with my love of the West and public lands. The incredible support of the Wyss Foundation provides the clearest path for me to do what I love after law school.

I am currently a Student Clerk at Earthrise Law Center (http://law.lclark.edu/centers/earthrise/) which was founded in 1996 to “…achieve targeted environmental improvement while teaching the next generation of advocates to do the same”. 

Working with experienced attorneys to protect our public lands and natural resources has been a fantastic experience. That is why I am so excited to continue working for Earthrise this coming summer. In the future, I hope to be able to do public interest legal work to protect public lands in the Pacific Northwest.

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Wyss Scholar

Jack Pritchard

I am currently spending the summer working with the National Parks Service restoration team at Redwood National and State Parks in Orick, CA on the Lower Prairie Creek Restoration Project. My position is to develop a trails system and interpretation in conjunction with the parks Watershed Restoration Geologist, as logged-over second growth is thinned, and historic logging roads are removed to reduce sediment deposition into the creeks and rivers. This history of logging defines the public landscape, but is often a characteristic little recognized by visitors. Developing a network of trails throughout the forestlands that are actively being restored will afford visitors the chance to confront the importance of this history to the park and its surrounding region.

Without the support of the Wyss Foundation, I would not have the opportunity to pursue this experience nor continue my goal of becoming a leader in the conservation of our western forests.

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The Wyss Fellows Program provides campaign experience and training for individuals who have the potential to become future conservation leaders. Fellows work at sponsoring organizations on a variety of projects and campaigns determined by the sponsoring organization during their two-year fellowship. Fellows must focus their work on one or more of the following areas: Oregon, California, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, or New Mexico.

Wyss Fellowships are ideal for talented and committed individuals just completing their education and looking to launch their career in conservation, or for those looking to make a career change. Fellows gain experience in all aspects of conservation advocacy, including policy development, grassroots and grasstops organizing, coalition-building, research and writing, media and communications, and fundraising.

Fellows also participate in annual week-long training programs, where they have the chance to meet and learn about other Wyss Fellows’ work.

2019 Wyss Fellows sponsorship applications are now closed.


2018-20 Wyss Fellows will be hosted at:

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (Missoula, MT)

Conservation Voters for Idaho Education Fund
(Boise, ID)

Friends of the Inyo 
(Bishop, CA)

National Caucus of Environmental Legislators
(Washington, DC)

Trout Unlimited
(Santa Fe, NM)

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Featured Fellow

Stewart Lewis

Stewart Lewis is the Advocacy Coordinator with the Outdoor Industry Association, based in Boulder, Colorado. He’s working on recreation policy at the state and local level, including establishing state offices of outdoor recreation and ensuring sustainable, dedicated funding mechanisms are in place to support close to home recreation.


Featured Fellow

Grecia Nuñez

Grecia Nuñez is the Public Lands Fellow with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, based out of Las Cruces, New Mexico. She’s helping connect diverse communities, especially youth, with the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument while defending and protecting it for future generations. She is also helping to organize a diverse and representative base of public lands supporters for the Gila River.

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Featured Fellow

Walker Conyngham

Walker Conyngham is the Communications Coordinator with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, based in Missoula, Montana. He is working on building dedicated support for conservation policy at all levels and expanding the community of citizens invested in North America’s public lands, waters, and wildlife through targeted outreach and coalition building.