State and local officials in southwest Utah are asking the federal Bureau of Land Management to approve the bulldozing and carving of a new 4-lane highway through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. The request comes less than a dozen years after Congress designated the conservation area to protect habitat for the imperiled Mojave desert tortoise, which has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1990.
Construction of the highway, known as the Northern Corridor, would harm much of this key habitat for the threatened tortoise. The new highway would also exacerbate impacts of a July 2020 wildfire that tore through 12,000 acres of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, which as the local paper pointed out, impacted desert shrubs, herbs, grasses, cacti, and wildflowers that serve as shelter and food for the threatened tortoise. The truth is that the highway is unnecessary and would increase the already rapid pace of human expansion into southwest Utah.
The Red Cliffs are the northeast extent of the range of Mojave desert tortoise and a stronghold for the species. While these creatures can live up to 80 years, they don’t reach reproductive maturity until around 15 year-old and they are very sensitive to habitat changes, which means that their populations grow slowly. The tortoise’s overall population has long been declining and the Northern Corridor highway would fuel further decline in several significant ways.
The 4-lane highway would permanently restrict tortoises’ ability to migrate within the National Conservation Area, which could lead to the complete loss of local sub-populations. And while federal officials would attempt to gather up tortoises in the path of the highway and relocate them before bulldozers started rolling, the effort would largely serve as PR rather than preservation. Science has shown that re-located tortoises have very poor survival rates and other tortoises wouldn’t be found and would be crushed by heavy equipment during construction.
Utah’s Department of Transportation wants the public to believe the new highway is needed to reduce snarled traffic in rapidly growing St. George. But real-world experience shows us that any short-term reduction in traffic congestion provided by the Northern Corridor would hasten further sprawl around St. George, ultimately offsetting the short-term traffic benefits. And the Bureau of Land Management’s own environmental analysis identifies an alternative route that not only avoids the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area entirely but would be more effective at reducing traffic congestion in the long term.
September 10 is the deadline to tell the Bureau of Land Management to act in the best interest of public lands and threatened wildlife. Click here to ask the Bureau to reject Utah’s request for an unnecessary and harmful 4-lane highway through this desert tortoise stronghold.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was written to protect and recover jeopardized species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The ESA is worded to proceed on the side of caution, affording species protection over not. For that reason, Congress provided an additional avenue to expedite species’ listings by amending the Act to allow for citizen petitions to list.
Citizens can petition U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (commonly referred to as “the Services”) to list any unprotected species as threatened or endangered. Citizen groups generally have a more personal connection with the petitioned species as a result of geographical knowledge and recreational interests, therefore making them ideal advocates for at-risk species. The Services then have 90 days from receipt of a petition to determine whether listing “may be warranted” and have 12 months from receipt of a petition to make a final listing determination.
In response to an overwhelming number of species that need protection, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service created a Workplan that allows them to evaluate and prioritize listing decisions. Today, over 550 species are still awaiting listing determinations with the Workplan in place. Delays to list species are increasing, with the Service taking years to issue final listing determinations that are mandated to only take 12 months.
WildEarth Guardians initiated a lawsuit against the Service in order to have five Western River species listed. These species are still awaiting 12-month listing determinations and have been for four to seven years. Regardless of the Services’ exceedance of their statutory deadlines, citizen petitions play a valuable role in identifying at-risk species. The majority of species that have been listed or are awaiting ESA protections are a result of citizen petitions. WildEarth Guardians continues to fight for species’ protection and to force the Service’s hand to list.
Victoria Frankeny is a third-year law student at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. She interned with the legal team at WildEarth Guardians assisting in litigation and providing legal research.
Despite devastating reports of catastrophic species loss, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service are proposing a second round of regulations to undercut the Endangered Species Act—our nation’s most effective law for saving imperiled wildlife from extinction.
This new proposal would limit the ability of federal agencies to establish “critical habitat” for listed species by adding a new, narrow definition of “habitat,” hampering species protection. Sign our petition opposing this rule change.
At a time of unprecedented global mass extinction, it is unconscionable that the Trump administration continues to roll back protections for our most imperiled species. The ability to restore potential or future habitat to support the recovery of threatened and endangered species is a crucial tool to actually save species from extinction. This is yet another effort by the Trump administration to dismantle the ESA and cater to the interests of the resource extraction industry and developers, despite the cost to wildlife.
The administration is moving forward with its new extinction plan even as the country is grappling with an unprecedented public health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Undermining the Endangered Species Act erodes our ability to protect against future pandemics. Decades of scientific studies have warned that—in addition to live wildlife markets—habitat destruction and biodiversity loss create significant risk of zoonotic disease spillover into the human population. The Endangered Species Act is our most effective tool for protecting biodiversity.
Wildlife needs your voice! Tell the administration this rollback is unacceptable and species conservation is more important now than ever. Join us in opposing this new attack on the Endangered Species Act.
On August 17, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) failed to take necessary steps to ensure survival and recovery of Upper Willamette River wild spring Chinook salmon and winter steelhead in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
This ground-breaking decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Native Fish Society, and Advocates for the West in 2018.
Western rivers, including Oregon’s Willamette, are strangled by dams that generate unnatural flows, block fish migration, and impact water quality. Dams on four key tributaries of the Willamette River block 40 to 90 percent of fish spawning habitat leading to a perilous decline in wild fish. Modifying dam operations to prioritize fish passage is vital to ensuring native fish and ecosystems can thrive.
The judge’s ruling holds the Corps responsible for the destruction caused by a century of dam building. The court affirmed what we knew all along—the Corps and NMFS must act to protect a living Willamette River and ensure wild fish recover and persist for generations to come.
Stay tuned for a ruling on the remedy to these egregious violations of the ESA. Briefing is to commence in the coming weeks and we will be back in touch with an update soon.
Your actions and financial support are vital to our work protecting living rivers and stopping extinction. You helped make this victory possible. Your continued support and partnership will enable Guardians to keep defending the wild fish and wild rivers of the American West.
WildEarth Guardians and allies have filed our opening brief in a lawsuit to require the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore proven safeguards for the protection and recovery of imperiled grizzly bears, Canada lynx, wolverine, and bull trout on the Flathead National Forest in northwest Montana. Our lawsuit claims that the recently revised Forest Plan for the Flathead National Forest violates the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act by favoring destructive activities such as logging, grazing, road building, and motorized use over protection and restoration of these species and their habitats.
The new Forest Plan is critical because it will govern all future activities on the 2.4 million-acre Flathead National Forest for the next 15 years or more. As part of the “Crown of the Continent,” the Flathead is a haven of rugged mountain peaks, rich, thick forests, and cool, clean mountain streams, with some of the last remaining intact wilderness and free-flowing rivers on the continent. Unfortunately, outside of protected wilderness, this national forest suffers from a long history of unsustainable logging, an excessive road system, and motorized use, including ATVs and snowmobiles, that harm and harass wildlife, fragment fish and wildlife habitat, and degrade sensitive riparian areas and water quality.
“The Flathead National Forest plays an essential role in the long-term recovery of grizzly bears and other imperiled species,” explained Adam Rissien, ReWilding Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “In its recent decision overturning the de-listing of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population, the Ninth Circuit recognized the importance of inter-population connectivity and genetic exchange to ensure the grizzly bear’s long-term health and recovery. The Flathead’s revised Forest Plan fails to ensure this connectivity and thus threatens grizzly bear recovery as well as other species such as threatened bull trout and lynx.”
Read the press release.
At their peak, more than 50,000 grizzly bears roamed the Lower 48 States from the West Coast to the Great Plains. After near extermination to only a few hundred bears by the 1930s, grizzly bears in the Continental U.S. were listed as “Threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) on July 28, 1975.
Forty-five years later—on July 8, 2020—the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to maintain ESA protections for grizzly bears living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This momentous ruling is a culmination of years of work by WildEarth Guardians and our allies to protect these magnificent creatures.
Unfortunately, grizzly bears are not out of the woods yet. Grizzlies remain absent from nearly 98 percent of their historic range and the Great Bear also faces continuing threats from climate change, dwindling key food resources, illegal poaching, lack of connectivity among populations, and the negative impacts of roads and railroad tracks fragmenting their habitat. To make matters worse, Montana’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council is finalizing recommendations, which may include support for grizzly bear trophy hunts.
Guardians’ Grizzly Bear Tool Kit is custom made for Grizzly Guardians like you, so please use it to help protect grizzly bears!
Speak up for Grizzly Bears: Sign the Petition!
Tweet for Grizzly Bears!
We’ve assembled ten ready-to-go tweets, complete with inspiring images and a link to the petition or other great griz info. All you have to do is “copy-and-paste” these tweets and images to help raise awareness and make a big difference in defense of the Great Bear! P.S. These tweets will work great on Facebook and other forms of social media, too!
I’m celebrating a big win for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone, and you should be too! The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld #EndangeredSpeciesAct protections for grizzlies, meaning no grizzly bear trophy hunting. Details: guardiansaction.org/griz_win #StopExtinction
Grizzlies are not out of the woods yet. #Montana’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council is finalizing recommendations that will influence the Great Bear’s future for years to come. Unfortunately, several Council members support trophy hunting. Take Action: guardiansaction.org/grizzlybears
Threatened grizzly bears face continuing threats from #climatechange, dwindling key food resources, illegal poaching, lack of connectivity among populations, and the negative impacts of roads and railroad tracks fragmenting their habitat. Take action: guardiansaction.org/grizzlybears
While threatened grizzly bears have slowly come back from the brink of extinction in the Lower 48 states over the last 45 years, these iconic species remain absent from nearly 98 percent of their historic range. Act now for grizzlies: guardiansaction.org/grizzlybears #StopExtinction
Tweet #5 (No Image Needed)
WildEarth Guardians and allies have just dealt the Trump administration another legal loss! Threatened Yellowstone grizzly bears will stay protected by the #EndangeredSpeciesAct and planned trophy hunts remain stopped. #StopExtinction wildearthguardians.org/press-releases/yellowstone-grizzlies-to-stay-on-endangered-list/
Tweet #6 (No Image Needed)
“WildEarth Guardians applauds the decision of the 9th Circuit Court—a triumph of science over politics—in ensuring that Yellowstone grizzly bears are allowed to truly recover and thrive,” said Sarah McMillan, conservation director for WildEarth Guardians. wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/victory-yellowstone-grizzlies-to-stay-on-endangered-list/
Together with their allies, @wildearthguard just scored a big victory for Yellowstone grizzly bears, the #EndangeredSpeciesAct, federal #publiclands, and science over politics. Learn more about this great news: guardiansaction.org/griz_win
Threatened grizzly bears need safe passage and secure habitat, not bullets! Raise your voice for the Great Bear: guardiansaction.org/grizzlybears #StopExtinction #EndTheWarOnWildlife
Tell a friend, or ten! WildEarth Guardians and partners just scored a big victory for threatened grizzly bears living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Now let’s tell #Montana that grizzly bears need safe passage and secure habitat, not bullets: wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/victory-yellowstone-grizzlies-to-stay-on-endangered-list/
Tweet #10 (No Image Needed)
Did you hear the great news? WildEarth Guardians and our allies just dealt the Trump administration another legal loss! Threatened Yellowstone grizzly bears will stay protected by the #EndangeredSpeciesAct and planned trophy hunts are off the table. wildearthguardians.org/press-releases/yellowstone-grizzlies-to-stay-on-endangered-list/
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the Trump administration and state of Wyoming’s appeal of a 2018 decision restoring endangered species protections for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzly bears. The original decision halted states’ planned trophy hunts in the ecosystem, which would have harmed other imperiled populations of grizzly bears. WildEarth Guardians, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, one of the plaintiffs and victors of the original lawsuit, played a central role in the appeal process.
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzly bears in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana totals about 728 animals, up from its historic low of 136 when endangered species protections were enacted in 1975. In the original case, opponents of federal protections for grizzly bears argued that protections were no longer necessary and that a sport hunting season to effectively manage down the population was justified despite the fact that the population represents only a fraction of its historical abundance, and has yet to achieve connectivity to neighboring populations near Glacier National Park and elsewhere. The recovery of other grizzly bear populations depends heavily on inter-population connectivity and genetic exchange. Absent endangered species protections, dispersing grizzlies essential to species recovery would have to pass through a killing zone outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks where Wyoming and Idaho rushed to approve trophy hunts.
“WildEarth Guardians applauds the decision of the 9th Circuit Court—a triumph of science over politics—in ensuring that Yellowstone grizzly bears are allowed to truly recover and thrive,” said Sarah McMillan, conservation director for WildEarth Guardians. “Grizzly bears are an iconic species whose very existence is intertwined with the concept of endangered species protection in the United States. This decision solidifies the belief of numerous wildlife advocates and native tribes that protecting grizzly bears should be based upon science and the law and not the whims of special interest groups, such as those who want to trophy hunt these great bears.”
Read the full press release.
WildEarth Guardians and our allies have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its failure to take any action in response to a 2016 court order striking down the agency’s exclusion of Canada lynx habitat in the species’ entire southern Rocky Mountain range from designation as critical habitat. This habitat is essential for the wildcat’s recovery.
Critical habitat is area designated by the federal government as essential to the survival and recovery of a species protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Once designated, federal agencies must make special efforts to protect critical habitat from damage or destruction. In 2014, USFWS designated approximately 38,000 acres of critical habitat for threatened lynx, but chose to exclude the lynx’s entire southern Rocky Mountain range, from south-central Wyoming, throughout Colorado, and into north-central New Mexico. These areas are vital to the iconic cat’s survival and recovery in the western U.S., where lynx currently live in small and sometimes isolated populations.
“Lynx were virtually eliminated from Colorado in the 1970s as a result of cruel trapping, poisoning, and development that lay waste to their habitat,” said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians, based in Denver. “Despite efforts to reintroduce these elusive cats to their native habitat from 1999 to 2010, without federal critical habitat protections, the lynx may never truly have the opportunity to recover in the Southern Rockies.”
Read the press release.
WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, and Kettle Range Conservation Group filed a lawsuit on June 17, 2020 to ensure that the U.S. Forest Service protects endangered gray wolves on the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington where livestock ranching activities have incited conflict. This woeful negligence by the federal agency has resulted in the deaths of 26 wolves since 2012, including the total destruction of both the Profanity Peak Pack and the Old Profanity Territory Pack.
Specifically, the lawsuit challenges the Forest Service’s revised Colville National Forest Plan for failing to evaluate how the agency’s federally permitted livestock grazing program adversely affects wolves—a species eradicated from most of the contiguous United States by the 1920s. The groups are also challenging the Forest Service’s approval of cattle grazing for Diamond M Ranch, which is responsible for the majority of wolf deaths on the Colville National Forest since 2012, without requiring any measures to prevent these wolf-livestock conflicts from recurring.
“The blood of these wolves is on the Forest Service’s hands. Just because the agency didn’t pull the trigger, doesn’t mean the agency didn’t supply the gun and ammunition,” stated WildEarth Guardians’ Wildlife Coexistence Campaigner, Samantha Bruegger. “The Diamond M Ranch livestock grazing allotments, on 78,000 acres of the Colville National Forest, have been notorious as the place where wolves go to die. We want to change that and we think the agency can and should demand ranchers who receive grazing permits must coexist with wolves on national forest land.”
Read the press release.
I recently finally began listening to the audiobook of Cormack McCarthy’s The Crossing after incessant urging by my partner, Mark. I had demonstrated some initial resistance, knowing McCarthy’s reputation for grim violence and stark depictions of the depravity of man. But I decided his imagined, if meticulously researched, historical world couldn’t be much more grisly than the current real one we find ourselves in. So I listen.
I bring all of this up to open today’s blog post because the first few hours of The Crossing revolve around a wolf, a pregnant she-wolf to be precise, making her way through the wild country of southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona (the exact location of our Greater Gila campaign!). And she’s being pursued. A young rancher’s son is setting traps for our wolf, as she is the cause of numerous livestock depredations. At last listen, she’d finally been caught, forefoot gruesomely snared in steel jaws, after weeks of out-smarting the trappers. She’s been hog-tied and dragged behind a horse. And I’m not feeling like it’s cause for celebration, in fact quite the opposite. And I think McCarthy’s eerie foreshadowing of her capture is intentionally preparing me to interrogate the metaphor of the wolf, and what she might represent in the American imagination.
There’s no denying that McCarthy is something of a literary genius, his cult following can attest to that, but what most impressed me about the listen so far is his depiction of the wolf. There are whole paragraphs dedicated to her description. And while there is no trace of anthropomorphizing, he manages to render a picture of her so vivid, so alive and beautifully wild, that she becomes perhaps the most compelling character in the story so far. Her experience becomes a deeply felt experience for the reader. To bring such life to a fictional non-human literary presence requires more than just a way with words. I can only conclude that McCarthy must have come to know the wolf in an extraordinary way, in a way, perhaps, we can all come to know the wolf one day.
As an added bonus to my wolf wonderings, it’s Wolf Week here at Guardians (check out our webpage on Wolf Protection and Recovery and our Mexican Wolf Recovery toolkit)! So we, as an organization, have also been thinking about wolves (really since our inception, over 30 years ago), and I have been reading other thoughtful voices who have been thinking about wolves. Because beyond their recently recognized status as charismatic megafauna, the wolf plays into some of my previous weekly themes, namely national mythologies, and ideas about One Health, in addition to the new nation-wide ritual of howling for healthcare workers that takes place every evening.
Let’s start with the wolf as a player in our national mythology. The enlightening dissertation paper by Gavin Van Horn titled Howling About the Land: Religion, Social Space, and Wolf Reintroduction in the Southwestern United States discusses the various relationships humans have with wolves, both in contemporary and historical contexts. Van Horn attributes the near eradication of wolves in the U.S. in the mid-20th century to the fervent disdain that came ashore with early European colonists, who, as keepers of domesticated animals, saw any and all wolves as vicious, calf-eating monsters. This reputation persisted, and was even elevated with the rise of the venerated cowboy, and the thrill of his brave quest to tame the wild frontier and all the savageness (wolves) that came with it. What I find most worthy of further rumination is the way the wolf violates two American ideals. First, the wolf has no notion of private versus public property, and, as a species with an inherent need to roam great distances, is therefore a common and unwelcome trespasser. Second, the wolf embodies a certain archetype of freedom and wildness, the former which we envy and the latter which we fear. The wolf exists in a state of original liberty and, as Van Horn so aptly observes, their howls become “a reminder of what humans have yet to subdue.”
In another scholarly paper by Martin A. Nie from the University of Minnesota titled The Sociopolitical Dimensions of Wolf Management and Restoration in the United States, wolf reintroduction becomes a lens with which to view shifting attitudes in American social and political spaces through time. I love this idea because it mandates a recognition of the ways we etch our human agendas, both implicit and explicit, onto the landscape and all the other selves that reside there within. As Van Horn suggests, for so long our obsession with that which is “civilized” (i.e. urban sprawls, agricultural fields, domesticated animals) has justified a scorched earth policy to eradicate that which is “wild” (i.e. uninhabited landscapes, unfamiliar cultures, non-domesticated animals), all in service of some constructed notion of progress.
But how does this tie in to our current moment of pandemic and social upheaval, you may ask? From the perspective of One Health, the wolf is a critical keystone species, one that when taken out of an ecosystem can cause a cascading extinction effect. We saw this with the Yellowstone reintroduction of wolves, as there was an astonishing recovery of habitat and a reestablishing of ecological balance. If we accept as true the concept that our health is inherently tied to the health of our community, our environment, and the planet, then we insist upon a coexistence model in which we share space and resources with other species who serve important ecosystem functions in maintaining that holistic health and wellness.
Furthermore, as Nie posits, when we come to recognize our treatment of wolves, through individual actions, management practices, or restoration efforts, as an expression of our own fears and insecurities, and our own confusion from the slow dissolution of an unproductive national mythology, perhaps we can manage those emotions with more grace and self-awareness. Perhaps we can lean into the challenge of inspecting our own imperfections, our misguided ideologies that lead to skewed perceptions of what counts as valuable. Perhaps we can tenderize our own human-ness, gather the truth of our own vulnerability and co-dependence on that which we may not know nor understand, and step towards a new and brave way of being a human in the world, a human in the world with wolves and bears and other humans, and be grateful to be small and soft and in our own way unsubdued. We howl now because we are afraid, not just of the Coronavirus, but of our own separation, our own loneliness. The stakes have become too high to continue reifying rugged individualism and unfettered growth. We howl now for change, deep tectonic change, for humans, for wolves, for the planet.
Each week, the Greater Gila Campaign Team of Leia Barnett and Madeleine Carey will share what they are reading, listening to, and watching and how it shapes the connections they draw between the current crisis and their work to conserve large landscapes.