Jackson Fork Ranch Awards UM Gift to Study, Film Yellowstone Ecosystem Biodiversity

The Jackson Fork Ranch-University of Montana Research Project will focus on four areas, including human behavior near grizzly bears. (Photo by Will Rice)

MISSOULA – A new research and multimedia collaboration at the University of Montana will spotlight the intricate web of life in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, ranging from bison and grizzly bears to songbirds and osprey.

The major gift from Joe Ricketts’ Jackson Fork Ranch to the University of Montana Foundation will fund a multiyear collaboration led by UM’s W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation. The project seeks to better understand biodiversity in the 34,375 square-mile ecosystem that spans Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, with Yellowstone National Park at its heart.

“Curiosity for, and conservation of, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s magnificent biodiversity is at the core of Jackson Fork Ranch’s approach to hospitality,” said entrepreneur and philanthropist Joe Ricketts, CEO of Jackson Fork Ranch. “We’re proud to partner with the University of Montana to fund the understanding and protection of the remarkable wildlife around us.”

The Jackson Fork Ranch-University of Montana Research Project also aims to raise awareness about biodiversity issues in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Missoula-based Warm Springs Productions will film the research for distribution through multimedia channels.

“This may be the best example of a public-private partnership that helps wildlife science and communicates the findings to the broader public, a key missing part of wildlife research,” said Doug Smith, the renowned scientist who served as Yellowstone National Park’s lead wolf biologist for many years and currently serves as chief biologist for Jackson Fork Ranch.

Beginning in 2024, UM forestry and conservation faculty will lead a series of four research studies, supported by master’s and doctoral students funded through Ricketts’ gift. With a top-ranked wildlife biology program and deep connections and extensive ongoing research in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, UM is ideally positioned to leverage the support.

“This generous gift allows the Franke College to build on the success of our biodiversity and conservation programs at the University of Montana,” said Alan Townsend, dean of the college. “We are deeply grateful for this support and are dedicated to making a real difference in understanding and protecting one of the planet’s most remarkable ecosystems.”  

The research projects will focus on four areas:

  • The interplay of bison and invasive plants on songbird diversity.
  • Interventions to address human behavior near grizzly bears.
  • Conservation of the migratory native species Yellowstone cutthroat trout and osprey.
  • Population ecology and physiology of great gray owls.

“This research represents a set of pressing ecological problems that address not only biological needs but human needs,” said Paul Lukacs, senior associate dean of research and graduate studies in the Franke College, who will be an ambassador for the project by serving as the Jackson Fork Ranch-UM Research Project term professor. “It’s hard to make conservation happen without having the applied and basic ecological science as well as the social science. These projects bring all three together.”

Ricketts, who spent more than 35 years helping found and run TD Ameritrade, today focuses on a range of entrepreneurial and philanthropic ventures. He both founded and leads the Opportunity Education Foundation, the Cloisters on the Platte Foundation, the Ricketts Conservation Foundation, and the Ricketts Art Foundation. He lives in Little Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with his wife of more than 60 years, Marlene.


Contact: Elizabeth Willy, UM Foundation director of communications, at 406-243-5320, elizabeth.willy@supportum.org.