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Farwiza Farhan wins UCLA’s Pritzker Award for environmental innovators

By David Colgan

Conservationist receives $100,000 for work to protect Indonesia’s species-rich Leuser Ecosystem

Image of Farwiza Farhan with baby elephant

Farhan works to protect the Leuser Ecosystem, the last place on Earth where tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans live together in the wild. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

The UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability presented the 2021 Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award to Farwiza Farhan, who seeks to conserve wildlife in ways that also sustain humans living on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Farhan was honored during an online ceremony on Nov. 18.

Farhan works with communities and courts to protect the Leuser Ecosystem — the last place on Earth where tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans live together in the wild. She founded and leads a nonprofit organization called HAkA. The name stands for Hutan, Alam dan Lingkungan Aceh, or Forest, Nature and Environment of Aceh; its goal is to ensure sustainable development plans serve humans and wildlife in Indonesia’s Aceh province.

“My desire to protect the forest initially comes from my love of wildlife, but the force that keeps me going is the strength of the people I work with,” Farhan said.

The Pritzker award, which is presented annually, carries a prize of $100,000 that is funded through a portion of a $20 million gift to UCLA from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation. It is the field’s first major honor specifically for innovators under the age of 40 — those whose work stands to benefit most from the prize money and the prestige it conveys.

Farhan, 35, fights ecological threats with teams who spend time living among communities around the Leuser Ecosystem to better understand their needs. Recently, she mobilized community leaders in the region to file a civil lawsuit against a development plan that could legitimize road and hydropower schemes, rights to farm oil palm trees and new settlements in the ecosystem.

She also oversees a team that patrols and intercepts would-be wildlife poachers. Since it began, the group has reduced poaching in the region by 95%.

The Pritzker Award is open to anyone working to solve environmental challenges through any lens — from science to advocacy to entrepreneurism. There were three finalists for the 2021 prize, and all are focused on regional or local challenges.

The other finalists were David Diaz, an advocate for active transportation and environmental health in California’s San Gabriel Valley, and Chook-Chook Hillman, who brings traditional Karuk tribal perspectives to bear on ecological problems in the Klamath River basin in Northern California and Oregon. A panel of UCLA faculty members selected the finalists from among 18 candidates who were nominated by an international group of environmental leaders.

Image of Farwiza Farhan in the field, holding binoculars

Farhan is the founder of HAkA, an organization dedicated to ensuring that sustainable development plans serve humans and wildlife in Indonesia’s Aceh province. Photo credit: Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

Farhan was chosen as the 2021 honoree by a panel of five distinguished judges: Kara Hurst, head of worldwide sustainability at Amazon; Anousheh Ansari, CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation; Chanell Fletcher, executive officer of environmental justice at the California Air Resources Board; Los Angeles City Council member Kevin De Léon; and Lori Garver, CEO of the philanthropic organization Earthrise Alliance.

“Today we are in the midst of an existential crisis that human beings have never experienced before,” De Léon said in a video message to Farhan. “Your work as a researcher and forest conservationist is crucial to reversing the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss.”

The announcement of Farhan as the winner was made by Tony Pritzker, who founded the award and is a member of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability’s advisory board.

“Congratulations to David, Farwiza and Chook-Chook for having the courage to lead your communities and the next generation of environmental leaders,” Pritzker said.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu/news.

Photo of Morton La Kretz

$20M Gift from Morton La Kretz to Renovate Botany Building

Photo of Morton La Kretz

Morton La Kretz

 

Longtime UCLA supporter and alumnus Morton La Kretz has given a total of $20 million—$15 million this year and $5 million in 2017—to renovate the historic botany building in the southeastern part of campus. In recognition, UCLA has renamed the building the La Kretz Botany Building.

“This generous gift will provide exceptional resources and opportunities to faculty and students doing vital research in conservation and plant biology,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said. “Thanks to Morton La Kretz’s extraordinary generosity, the La Kretz Botany Building will become a world-class research facility and first-rate training ground for future scientific leaders.”Designed by pioneering architect Paul Revere Williams and completed in 1959, the building has been home to generations of renowned faculty and researchers. It features a third-floor glass façade that gives occupants a view of the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden and many of the plants they are studying.

The renovation, which is already underway, includes a refurbished entrance and lobby accessed from Charles E. Young Drive; upgraded labs for teaching and research on botany and conservation; and a new technologically enabled class lab with an entrance on the south side of the building accessible to the garden. The project is expected to be completed in January 2022.

“We are tremendously grateful to Morton La Kretz,” said Victoria Sork, UCLA’s dean of life sciences. “His philanthropy has had a monumental impact on research and education on environmental and plant conservation studies at UCLA, and his latest gift to revitalize the botany building is yet another shining example.”

La Kretz is the founder and president of Crossroads Management, a real estate development and property management company. Among his notable achievements is saving Hollywood’s historic landmark Crossroads of the World from demolition in 1977 and restoring it to its former 1930s glory.

Born in Illinois to Eastern European immigrants, La Kretz moved with his family to Boyle Heights in Los Angeles at a young age. There, his father established a grocery business and later owned a market on 9th St. and Hoover in central Los Angeles, where La Kretz stocked shelves and worked as a delivery boy during high school.

One of few students from his high school to go to college, La Kretz said, “I was ambitious, and my parents expected me to go to college.  After all, going to college was the way up.”

By the time he arrived at UCLA, the United States had entered World War II and the campus was changing dramatically.

“UCLA became a training ground for officers, and you expected to be drafted at any time,” he said. “It colored almost everything.”

Like many of his fellow students, La Kretz interrupted his education by enlisting. He traded classes for boot camp and became an electronics technician in the Navy, but the war ended before he saw any action. Having been gone for two years, he returned to UCLA and earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1948, while also taking business classes.

After graduation, La Kretz was eager to get to work. He took a job in a lumberyard and began learning everything he could about construction. Eventually, with financial assistance from his parents, he spearheaded his own construction projects and was soon riding the wave of the 1950s postwar building boom.

For all his success in business, La Kretz said he is most proud of his philanthropy and its impact.

“It is so satisfying to give young people an education that will enable them to focus on the pressing environmental and conservation issues of our time,” he said.

He said his latest gifts aligned well with his philanthropy to UCLA over the past 16 years. His previous major gifts include lead gifts toward the construction of La Kretz Hall, which houses UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability  (IoES); to create the La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science, located in the Santa Monica Mountains and administered through the IoES in partnership with the National Park Service; to build an entrance to the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, and to construct the La Kretz Garden Pavilion, which hosts events and classes and  serves as a visitor center at the garden’s north end.

La Kretz is 92, but he has no plans to retire. He has passed on his passion for philanthropy to his daughter, Linda Duttenhaver, vice president of Crossroads Management. Duttenhaver shares his interest in supporting higher education and the environment: In 2017, she and her father established the La Kretz Research Center at Sedgwick Reserve, operated by UC Santa Barbara as part of the University of California Natural Reserve System.

La Kretz’s recent gifts are part of the UCLA Centennial Campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019 during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year.

New book from UCLA’s Ursula Heise examines the conservationist thrall and narratives of extinction

It all began with the adoption of a Jardine’s parrot in the mid-1990s. Ursula Heise, UCLA English professor and the Marcia H. Howard Chair in Literary Studies, author and leader in the growing study of environmental humanities, was surprised by the animal’s intelligence and ability to communicate.