As promised, WildEarth Guardians and our allies filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service challenging the Trump administration’s decision to prematurely strip gray wolves of federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections across the entire lower 48 states. The notice, filed on November 6, starts a 60-day clock, after which Guardians and our coalition will file a lawsuit in federal court.
The most recent data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and its state partners show an estimated 4,400 wolves inhabit the western Great Lakes states, but only 108 wolves in Washington state, 158 in Oregon, and a scant 15 in California. Nevada, Utah, and Colorado have had a few wolf sightings over the past three years, but wolves remain functionally extinct in these states. These numbers lay the groundwork for a legal challenge planned by a coalition of Western conservation groups.
“As we’ve seen over the past week, counting and numbers are not a strength of the Trump administration,” said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians. “No matter how you try to spin the data, wolves do not even inhabit 20 percent of historic range. This is not true recovery under the Endangered Species Act and a clear violation of the law.”
In delisting wolves, USFWS ignores the science showing they are not recovered in the West. The USFWS concluded that because in its belief there are sufficient wolves in the Great Lakes states, it does not matter that wolves in the West are not yet recovered. The ESA demands more, including restoring the species in the ample suitable habitats afforded by the wild public lands throughout the West. Wolves only occupy a small portion of available, suitable habitat in Oregon and Washington, and remain absent across vast swaths of their historical habitat in the West, including in Colorado and the southern Rockies.
The restoration of gray wolves could be a heroic success story, but it will be cut tragically short if wolves lose further protection under the ESA now. We can’t let fragile wolf-recovery efforts to be stalled and allow states, hunters, and trappers to push the species back to the brink of extinction without a fight. Please support Guardians’ Wolf Defense Fund with a gift today and help us ensure gray wolves have a future.
One other thing you can do is sign this petition urging the incoming Biden administration to immediately take action on January 20 to halt the impending slaughter and begin the process of restoring ESA protections for gray wolves. After you sign, make sure to share the petition with your family, friends, and networks. Thank you!
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—the agency tasked with recovering critically endangered Mexican gray wolves—is working right now to trap and remove wolves from the wilds of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico at the behest of livestock producers who are grazing non-native cattle on public lands for private profit.
Wolves from the Sheepherders Baseball Park Pack or the Pitchfork Canyon Pack are blamed for killing around 3% of one rancher’s herd of cows. In comparison, the federal government has killed about 3% of the entire wild Mexican wolf population this year in the name of social tolerance. It seems that tolerance only goes one way.
Help us stop this wolf removal! Send an email to email@example.com today. Tell U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service why you support wild wolves over destructive, non-native cattle. Explain that the agency’s job is to protect and recover endangered Mexican gray wolves, not cows. Tell them to stop the removal of these endangered, wild lobos—fewer than 170 of which live in the American Southwest.
Please keep your comments civil, as hostile language is counterproductive. When you email, it is helpful to copy us (firstname.lastname@example.org) so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can’t claim to not have received your note. Thank you for taking action to defend lobos!
Learn more about this situation here.
In a major win for wildlife in Montana, WildEarth Guardians settled our lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in May, after the federal program agreed to severely curtail its slaughter of native wildlife and the use of cruel tools such as snares, traps, and poisons in Montana.
For those unfamiliar with Wildlife Services, this multimillion-dollar federal program annually kills an average of about 1,500,000 native wildlife species nationally. Relying on taxpayer dollars for its killing campaigns, Wildlife Services often uses costly methods such as “aerial gunning” to launch preemptive strikes on thousands of native carnivores—before there has been any actual conflict with humans or livestock.
In Montana alone, over just the past three years, Wildlife Services has reported killing 152 wolves, four grizzly bears, 52 mountain lions, 18 black bears, 320 foxes and more than 20,000 coyotes.
Wildlife Services has not considered the environmental impacts of its “predator damage control” program since the mid-1990s, and even then, it relied on science that dated to the 1970’s and ‘80’s. And the killing has continued unabated. More current science establishes that lethal management is ineffective at preventing conflict. And the significant impact on ecosystems of such indiscriminate killing of carnivores calls into question the entire program. In the midst of the sixth great extinction, during which species are disappearing at an alarming rate, it is irresponsible and unethical to use indiscriminate and cruel tools to kill wildlife. This is particularly true when coexistence practices exist that are proven to be effective at conflict prevention.
Our May 2020 settlement with Wildlife Services requires a new environmental analysis of the effects and risks of its wildlife-killing program in Montana and, meanwhile, requires the following protections:
No killing in Wilderness areas, Wilderness Study Areas managed by the Forest Service, Wild & Scenic River corridors, Research Natural Areas, or Areas of Critical Environmental Concern in Montana;
No killing of cougars or black bears on any federal lands;
No more M-44s (sodium cyanide bombs) on any public lands, or private lands in 41 of 56 Montana counties;
No more lethal gas cartridges can be used to destroy denning wildlife like coyotes, fox, or prairie dogs on public lands;
Increased public transparency.
Over the last five years, litigation by Guardians and partners against Wildlife Services has resulted in settlement agreements and legal victories in Idaho, Wyoming, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, all curbing the program’s slaughter of native wildlife and making the program accountable for its activities. And we are not stopping now. Guardians has active litigation against Wildlife Services in Colorado and Idaho, and we are continuing to monitor Wildlife Services’ activities across the West, ready to take on the federal killing program in order to protect vulnerable wildlife.
Montana’s majestic wildlife is part of what makes this state so special. Wildlife Services’ indiscriminate, inhumane, and pointless killing of wildlife cuts against the values of most people. It’s time to bring this killing program out of the shadows, into this century, and start working towards true coexistence with the wildlife that makes Montana wild and wonderful.
Now, perhaps more than ever, it is important to ask the question, “what does our country need most?” To that question, I answer “grown-ups.” The Cambridge dictionary defines “grown-up” as someone who behaves in a mature and responsible way. It is not unusual for a child to complain, call people names, and avoid responsibilities. But, for an adult, that behavior is unacceptable at best, and dangerous at worst.
We live at a time of declining trust in government institutions—and with good reason. Deep economic and racial injustice, political polarization, and a world wide pandemic are just a few of the responsibilities our government has failed to address.
Yet, at a time when my faith in many American institutions is declining, I still have faith in some of the good people who serve in government.
This week, WildEarth Guardians settled our lawsuit with the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agreement elevates the protection of the Mexican spotted owl and the ancient forest habitat that the owl depends on.
The agreement brings to an end the massive legal injunction on tree-cutting on six national forests in New Mexico and Arizona. A federal judge put that injunction in place after he determined that the Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to monitor spotted owl populations.
This injunction was the third issued by a federal judge since the owl was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1993—what has to be a record for federal judicial accountability. The decades-long conflict over national forests and spotted owls in the American Southwest is a microcosm for the loss of trust in government institutions. On all sides of the debate, there is a belief that the Forest Service has failed to be responsible in its role of managing the national forests.
Rather than doing its job—namely, performing a serious study on the health of the spotted owl—the Forest Service dissembled and whined. And when the courts prevented logging, the Forest Service placed the blame on others. Leadership at the Forest Service viewed our public lands as their own “toy chest,” with the intention of sharing their “toys” only with their friends—those with power, influence, and money.
Fortunately, there are still some grown-ups at the Forest Service. People like Elaine Kohrman, the Deputy Regional Forester, who helped navigate the challenges that arose during our negotiations. I believe this agreement could not have come about without her leadership and vision.
Elaine, and her team, saw this conflict as an opportunity to set things right and to chart a new course for the Forest Service and the spotted owl. I commend her for that. I suspect it was not an easy path she chose. She probably met with serious resistance, but she did the mature, responsible thing. She reminds me of a time when our institutions served the people—not the other way around. Her efforts, along with other public servants who care deeply about our forests, avoided further polarization and led to common ground.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a Guardian. As much as I believe in collaboration, I also believe in conflict as a necessary part of social change, whether as an antidote to power inequity or as a remedy for historic injustice.
And I still believe that when a government breaks its promises to uphold the law and protect the public interest, citizens can enforce our laws as a means to not only protect civic engagement but also the rule of law.
One of the guiding principles of how national forests are supposed to be managed is through a scientific process of ‘adaptive management.’ Adaptive management done right builds trust—done wrongly it reinforces a mistrust that can become toxic to forests, people, and agencies.
I believe our agreement decreases the likelihood of ecological damage of all future tree cutting in and outside of spotted owl habitat. Still, there is more to be done.
One of the most destructive things President Trump has done over the last three and a half years is systematically rid our government of good public servants, whether by harassment, intimidation or the despair of working for a leader who doesn’t have your back. In short, he has attempted a purge of all the “grown-ups.” The hollowing out of government institutions has been one of the defining features and strategies of the Trump administration.
I’m encouraged to know that, in spite of these conditions, some good public servants are still hanging on. It’s easier than ever to get discouraged in these times—not only by the challenges we face but also by our imperfect government. My advice is don’t get discouraged. My advice is don’t whine, but act. We can start by acknowledging the hard work of public servants who fight the good fight.
It’s true that I believe that the settlement of this Endangered Species Act conflict will be good for threatened Mexican spotted owls and our national forests—and that matters deeply to me. But perhaps of far greater importance is that this agreement restores a small measure of faith that there are still some grown-ups who yet remain in our government.
If, like them, we can address the problems we face in a mature and responsible way, I am convinced we will overcome them all.
When I awoke in the darkness, the first thing I felt was the soreness in my quads and calves. I wasn’t sure if it was the muscle pain or the hunger pains that had woken me. Maybe it was something else entirely—something stirring outside my tent.
That’s what it was—a sound. Not just any sound, but a sound I’d never heard before. At first, it was indiscernible. After a moment, it was unmistakable. Almost like a song. One voice, then two… then three… then, an entire chorus.
I tried to focus, but my damn sleeping bag was making all those crinkly sounds as I tried to settle my body into a comfortable position. When I was finally still, the singing grew clearer—not just the sound, but the echo as well. The echo of wolves—howling in some place that seemed, at once, both far away and very near.
It was the fifth, and last, night of our backpack into the Gila Wilderness. I had been longing to hear those sounds for many years and perhaps, in my wishful greed, to catch a sight of the wolves themselves. My only regret from that night is that I didn’t wake my wife, Terry. But if you knew her particular relationship with sleep, you’d understand.
Weeks later, the wonder I felt that night transformed into sadness and outrage, as I realized those were the howls of the Middle Fork Pack, wolves that roamed the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Gila River.
I was saddened because I knew both the alpha female and alpha male of that pack only had three legs. Each victims of human cruelty—in one case, a gun shot wound. In the other, a steel trap.
Nevertheless, these incredible animals persisted and persevered for nearly a decade. They successfully raised wolf pups in the wild canyons, pine forests and remote grasslands within and on the edge of the Gila—America’s first wilderness.
In a sense, those of us who care about protecting these wolves are working with one of our legs missing as well.
Seemingly every day over the last four years, the Trump administration has systematically dismantled the environmental safety net. Regardless of who is elected in November, we will be working at a greater disadvantage than we were just four years ago.
But, if we persevere, as the wolves did in the face of adversity, we can still accomplish much. I believe that if we work half as hard as the wolves do, we can accomplish twice as much as we ever have.
We also can each learn something else from the Middle Fork wolves. It’s that there is strength in numbers and that we are more resilient when we look after every member of our pack. There’s likely no way a three-legged wolf could survive on its own, but working together they overcame significant obstacles.
When I think about how many Guardians there are in the world—and by that I simply mean compassionate people who protect the vulnerable—I am heartened by people’s commitment. But I am also aware that we are simply not enough people. We need more Guardians. I want every one of you reading these words to reach out to people you are not convinced share our value of protecting the vulnerable.
You may ask “why?” It’s because there is so much more at stake. It’s not just environmental protection that is being eviscerated, it is democracy itself.
But if we are to ultimately persevere in our quest, whatever it may be, we cannot focus only on the injuries from the past. I can’t imagine the Middle Fork wolves spent a moment in self-pity about their wounds. What propelled them forward was a fierce clarity about their purpose of protecting their pack. What will propel us forward is a compelling vision for the future. A key part of that vision is the recognition that we all share more in common than we usually think.
By focusing on what we have in common, rather than our differences, we can increase the size of our pack. In doing so, we will increase our political power and our ability to advocate on the behalf of the Middle Fork pack and the natural world in general. Doing this will require expanding our circle of compassion.
Perhaps it is naïve, but I believe the practice of compassion can be a compelling force. Many times, I have written about the need for society to expand the circle of compassion to include those who have historically been marginalized—women, minorities, the disabled, and the entire natural world. If we, as environmentalists, can expand our circle of compassion to include new, unlikely allies—I believe we will be more effective in achieving our goals.
Though the Middle Fork Pack sadly no longer endures, I hope their story becomes a part of your story about how we can be more resilient during these uncertain times. Let their story remind us that, with perseverance, we can overcome great obstacles.
Let us remind ourselves that we are members of a pack with room to grow, both in numbers and compassion. With that unified purpose, we will find strength and comfort, from ourselves and from each other, and together we will accomplish great things.
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.