WildEarth Guardians

A Force for Nature

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Representative Deb Haaland’s nomination by President Biden to lead the Interior Department represents an historic opportunity to drive the systemic change the natural world, our climate, and our country so desperately need.

If confirmed, Haaland—an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo—would be the first Indigenous person to run any Cabinet-level department in the history of the United States.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held hearings to consider Representative Haaland’s nomination on February 23rd and 24th, and the full U.S. Senate could vote any time after that, so we’re asking you to contact both of your senators today.

Unfortunately, Biden’s most historic Cabinet nomination could also be his most imperiled. That’s because senators in the back pocket of the dirty fossil fuel industry simply don’t want a climate justice activist and protector of public lands at the reins of the Interior Department.  Which is why we’re asking you—imploring you—to speak out on behalf of Haaland’s confirmation today.

Representative Haaland is a steadfast champion of bold climate action, environmental justice, Tribal rights, and protection of public lands and endangered wildlife.

In Congress, Haaland has been at the forefront of issues central to the climate and nature crises that the Interior Department must address. The Interior Department must stop the plundering of public lands, protect endangered species, implement policies that nurture an ethic of wildlife coexistence, protect 30% of all lands by 2030, and expand and deepen protection of national parks, monuments, and cultural sites.

Representative Haaland is exactly the visionary leader America needs to guide the Interior Department toward justice, equity, conservation, and environmental protection at this pivotal point in history. Her bold vision to address the nature and climate crises is precisely why some senators—and the resource exploiters bankrolling their election campaigns—adamantly oppose her leading the Interior Department.

They’re saying she’s too radical. But Haaland is merely committed to the bold and just path of transitioning our nation off our dependence on dirty fossil fuels.

Confirmation of Representative Haaland to be Interior Secretary would be a monumental step forward for Indigenous rights, climate action, environmental justice, and protection of public lands and threatened wildlife. In these times we need bold leadership, so please join me and urge your senators to support and confirm Representative Haaland to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior.

On January 14, WildEarth Guardians and our allies filed suit against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service challenging the premature stripping away of federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across the entire lower 48 states. The 11th hour move by the Trump administration means gray wolves are now once again in hunter’s and trapper’s crosshairs. We refuse to accept this atrocity and are fighting by all legal means to overturn the decision and restore protections for gray wolves.

Wolves belong and they need our voices and our actions.

WildEarth Guardians has stood as a champion for the voiceless and the vulnerable for over three decades and has regularly fought so that gray wolves, other native carnivores, and hundreds of imperiled species have a chance to fully recover and thrive.

Over the past year, tens of thousands of you have signed our petitions, sent letters, and called officials to demand protection for wolves. You have stood with—and beside—us. As we look at the work ahead of us in 2021, I also ask you to stand with us again and consider supporting Guardians’ Wolf Defense Fund. I have high hopes of overturning this outrageous decision and it’s going to take time, effort, and significant resources for us to win—even with a new administration.

Guardians pledges to leave no stone unturned in our efforts to reverse the heinous decision to delist wolves and hand their fate to states and people that wish to once again see wolves slaughtered, trapped, and hunted—instead of revered, understood, and welcomed across the wilds of the American West.

Please stand with us again today, and be prepared to take action again soon on behalf of wolves.

On January 4th, gray wolves lost federal Endangered Species Act protections. The reckless decision by the Trump administration applies to all gray wolves in the lower 48 states despite the lack of scientific evidence showing true recovery across gray wolves’ historic range. WildEarth Guardians and our partners are currently working on our legal challenge, which will be filed later this month. For now, management of wolf populations has returned to individual state wildlife agencies, some of which are already reinstating hunting and trapping season on wolves.

Tragically, the state of Idaho offers a graphic example of what state “management” of wolves may look like across the American West. Wolves in Idaho lost federal Endangered Species Act protections in 2011 and today an individual may kill up to 30 wolves per year in Idaho. According to an analysis of records obtained by Western Watersheds Project, hunters, trappers, and state and federal agencies killed 570 wolves in Idaho during a 12-month period from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020. Included in the mortality are at least 35 wolf pups, some weighing less than 16 pounds and likely only 4 to 6 weeks old. Some of the wolves shattered teeth trying to bite their way out of traps, others died of hyperthermia in traps set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, and more were gunned down in aerial control actions. The total mortality during this period represented nearly 60 percent of the 2019 year-end estimated Idaho wolf population.

The recovery of gray wolves could be a heroic success story, but it will be cut short if this stripping away of federal Endangered Species Act protection stands. We can’t abandon fragile wolf-recovery efforts and allow anti-wolf states, hunters, and trappers to push these iconic 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.

Then 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 Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves. After you sign the petition, make sure to share it with your family, friends, and networks.

We’re in this for the long haul. WildEarth Guardians fights for the Wild—and with you at our side, we will protect and defend wolves.

Earlier this fall, we sounded the alarm about a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) plan to trap and remove critically endangered Mexican gray wolves from the wilds of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico at the behest of livestock producers.

Despite the fact that fewer than 170 Mexican gray wolves live in the American Southwest, the very agency tasked with recovering endangered lobos was considering trapping and removing wolves from the Sheepherders Baseball Park Pack and the Pitchfork Canyon Pack, which call the Gila National Forest home.

Thanks in large part to all the Guardians who took action, we are pleased to report that no wolves were captured or harmed and that the livestock are no longer in the area!

The Mexican gray wolf—also known as the lobo—is the smallest subspecies of gray wolf. It is uniquely adapted to the arid environments of the American Southwest and northern Mexico, its historic range. Wolf-eradication programs nearly succeeded in eliminating the Mexican wolf from the landscape by 1970. Click here to learn more about these incredible, but endangered animals, and what WildEarth Guardians is doing to protect and defend Mexican gray wolves and the habitat they need to survive.

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!

UPDATE (December 11, 2020): Thank you to everyone who wrote the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the last month demanding that they not harm these wolves. Our understanding is that the livestock are no longer in the area and no wolves were captured or harmed.

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 mexicanwolfcomments@fws.gov 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 (info@wildearthguardians.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.

The three-legged alpha male of the Middle Fork pack. Photo by the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team.

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.