Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 22, 2022


Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 907-1533
Mati Waiya, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, (805) 794-1248
Mike Traphagen, Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, (805) 688-7997

Cultural, Environmental Groups Launch Utom Conservation Fund Scholarship, Fellowship

$100K Available for California Students Focused on Watershed Protection

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif.— An alliance of cultural and environmental organizations launched fellowships and scholarships today worth $100,000 for students committed to the protection of Southern California’s signature river. The Utom Conservation Fund Scholarship and Fellowship, announced on Earth Day, will be awarded to high school seniors, undergraduate and graduate school students committed to researching and preserving the cultural values and ecological function of the Utom watershed.

Utom, or Phantom River, was named by the Chumash people because water flow can come and go like a phantom. Also known as the Santa Clara River, the 116-mile-long river flows from the Angeles National Forest in northern Los Angeles County to the Pacific Ocean near Oxnard in Ventura County. It is the largest Southern California watershed that is still in a relatively natural state and features rich biodiversity. California red-legged frogs, unarmored threespine sticklebacks and more than 110 special-status plants and animals rely on Utom.

“The Utom River is a true California gem, and we want to inspire the next generation of environmental activists and leaders,” said Peter Galvin, cofounder and director of programs at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These scholarships are geared to students who share our passion for protecting a vulnerable, precious river that benefits local communities and wildlife.”

“After nearly three decades of Wishtoyo’s ongoing work protecting and preserving the cultural integrity of the Utom watershed on behalf of the human communities, the wildlife, and river itself, we are excited to help support the next generation of water protectors from this area,” said Mati Waiya, founder and executive director of Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation. “It is especially important for these upcoming scholars to be people from Utom’s local underserved community and from the First People of these unceded homelands, including those from federally unrecognized tribes.”

The scholarship and fellowship fund is managed by the Center, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and the California Native Plant Society. There are two different types of funds; both have a June 20, 2022, deadline.

There will be 25 scholarships worth $2,000 each awarded to incoming high school seniors and undergraduate students from junior colleges or four-year universities. Applicants should be passionate about protecting the environment and the Utom watershed.

The fellowships are for graduate students pursuing a master’s degree or doctorate in an environmental field and planning on a research project specific to the Utom watershed. There will be scholarships worth $12,500 each awarded to four graduate students.

Special consideration will be given to tribal members, including those from unrecognized tribes.

“Native Americans were the original stewards of these lands, so our tribe is proud to help fund this scholarship and inspire the next wave of students who care about the environment,” said Kenneth Kahn, tribal chairman for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. “We believe it’s important to encourage students to learn about and protect the Utom River with its rich Chumash heritage.”

The Utom Conservation Fund was established with settlement money from litigation to protect this unique watershed. Visit for more information about the scholarships and the application process.

Utom, or Santa Clara River, runs from the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County to the Pacific Ocean in Ventura County. Credit: J.P. Rose/Center for Biological Diversity Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Santa Ynez Reservation is located in Santa Barbara County and was established and officially recognized by the federal government on December 27, 1901. Today, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians remains the only federally recognized Chumash tribe in the nation. The tribe is a self-governing tribal sovereign nation and follows the laws set forth in its tribal constitution.

Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation is a native-led 501c3 organization founded in 1997 by Executive Director and Chumash Elder, Mati Waiya, an enrolled member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation. Our mission is to protect and preserve the culture, history, and lifeways of Chumash and indigenous peoples, and the environment everyone depends on. Wishtoyo addresses the extraordinary need for the public, agencies, and environmental institutions to understand the vital role of Indigenous Traditional Knowledge and the interconnectedness of culture, history, and science. Wishtoyo's unique approach integrates cultural preservation and ecological conservation through restoration projects, cultural and environmental education, scientific research; community organizing; sharing and utilizing Chumash values, Indigenous Traditional Knowledge; and using the standing and protections unique to Native Peoples in legal action and advocacy.

center locations