The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has revealed that at least 163 Mexican gray wolves survive in the wilds of southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona. The annual count shows an increase of 32 individuals since last year’s total documented count of 131. The Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team deployed in January and found 76 wolves in Arizona and 87 in New Mexico.
This increase marks a step in the right direction, away from extinction and toward recovery – despite many challenges. The fact that lobos are doing as well as they are comes in spite of inadequate and even hostile action from the agencies tasked with their recovery, a border wall blocking gene exchange with their relatives in Mexico, and archaic trapping rules in New Mexico that risk injury and death to wolves every trapping season.
“Lobos are showing that they belong in this region—that they are resilient in spite of mismanagement and hostility,” said Christopher Smith, southern Rockies wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Just think what their recovery might look like if we removed some of the obstacles that are put in front of them, like leghold traps on New Mexico public lands.”
Read the press release.
Our nation’s bedrock environmental law–the National Environmental Policy Act–is under attack by corporate polluters and their cronies in the Trump Administration, threatening our right to a healthy environment in the United States.
Fortunately, we have a chance to fight back against this brazen assault and defend our health and communities.
Most people have no clue what the National Environmental Policy Act is, but virtually everyone knows what it does.
Passed 50 years ago, the law ensures federal agencies analyze and fully disclose the environmental impacts of their activities. More importantly, it gives the public the right to be involved and to influence federal actions that may affect their environment.
Described as “our basic national charter for protection of the environment,” the National Environmental Policy Act has been a critical check on the activities of our federal government.
Often called NEPA (that’s pronounced “nee-puh”), the law enshrined the goal of environmental protection in the United States and enforced the need to involve the public in federal decisions. And since its passage, NEPA has worked tremendously.
It’s given communities a voice and sway when new highways are proposed through neighborhoods. It’s empowered local and state governments to stand up to federal agencies. It’s provided Tribes the tools needed to defend sacred lands. And it’s enabled watchdogs across the country to make a difference for people and the planet.
The law has truly been a ray of sunshine and for Americans.
For WildEarth Guardians, NEPA is absolutely key to protecting and restoring wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health in the American West.
For over 30 years, we’ve relied on the law to confront proposals by federal agencies to log old growth forests, dam rivers, decimate wildlife, destroy the climate, and desecrate sacred lands. We’ve relied on the law to mobilize support for safeguarding endangered species, protecting wilderness, and saving lands and waters throughout the American West.
Just last month, we filed suit in federal court to block the sale of nearly two million acres of public lands for fracking in five western states over the federal government’s failure to comply with NEPA. The case confronts the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s refusal to account for the climate impacts of authorizing more fossil fuel production and more greenhouse gas emissions.
For WildEarth Guardians, as well as countless other environmental, health, community, justice, Indigenous, and other advocates, NEPA is the backbone of our accountability efforts. It’s given us all the tools needed to stand up to private, often well-financed efforts to exploit our environment at the expense of our health and well-being.
Sadly, because groups like WildEarth Guardians have successfully used NEPA to defend our environment, it’s come under fire by polluters who view the law as an impediment to their ability to exploit communities and public resources.
Claiming the law is inefficient, cumbersome, and ineffective, corporate interests have for many years called for its gutting. Now, with Trump and his pro-polluter cadre in the White House, these interests are launching an unprecedented strike on our nation’s basic charter for environmental protection.
In a draft released on January 10, the White House Council on Environmental Quality published a proposed set of regulations that, if adopted, would effectively roll back and destroy NEPA as we know it (watch our recent Facebook Live check-in to learn more about these rollbacks).
The rules would completely rewrite regulations originally promulgated in 1982 and in doing so, completely upend our ability to hold our federal government accountable to protecting our environment. It’s not surprising that lobbyists for the nation’s polluters have described the rules as “exactly” what they recommended to the Trump administration.
Among the sweeping changes, the Trump administration’s proposal would:
- Strike language describing NEPA as “our nation’s basic charter for environmental protection” and instead describe the law as procedural and only requiring federal agencies to minimally disclose the environmental impacts of their actions;
- Severely restrict opportunities for public involvement in federal agency actions affecting the environment;
- In many situations, exempt federal agencies from having to complete environmental reviews;
- Let agencies shortcut environmental reviews and to reject science and public comments;
- Undermine transparency by allowing agencies to withhold environmental information from the public;
- Make it more difficult for watchdogs to enforce NEPA before administrative appeals boards or federal courts; and
- Prohibit federal agencies from analyzing and disclosing cumulative environmental impacts, or the impacts of their actions when added to the impacts of other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable activities.
That last proposed change is particularly distressing. The duty for the federal government to address the cumulative impacts of its actions is a critical and powerful means of ensuring agencies don’t worsen environmental problems, like climate change.
By eliminating the duty to account for cumulative impacts, the proposed changes would completely erase the federal government’s responsibility to protect our environment.
In keeping with the anti-public spirit of the proposal, the Council on Environmental Quality has also provided only 60 days for people to provide comments on the draft regulations and scheduled only two public hearings–one in Denver and one in Washington, D.C.–where only a little more than 100 people will be allowed to comment.
There’s no doubt that if approved, the proposed rules would effectively shut the American public out of the operations of the federal government, leaving our environment, our communities, our health, and our families more vulnerable than ever.
In response to Trump’s attack on NEPA, a massive coalition of advocates across the country are gearing up to fight back.
The resistance is kicking off in Denver, Colorado this Tuesday, February 11. That day, the Trump administration is holding its first of two public hearings on the proposed rollbacks.
While many will be speaking at the formal hearing, the Council on Environmental Quality provided only 112 speaking slots that were filled in less than five minutes due to extremely high demand. That’s why most people will be speaking and rallying across the street as part of the “Peoples Hearing to Protect NEPA,” an all-day action meant to uplift and empower the voices that were excluded by the Trump administration.
Groups are also pushing back in other critical ways. Last month, WildEarth Guardians joined hundreds of other groups in demanding the Trump administration extend the public comment period for the proposed rollbacks and calling for more public hearings.
Congressional leaders are also rising up to defend NEPA. In a bipartisan letter last month, U.S. Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, a Democrat, and Representative Francis Rooney of Florida, a Republican, were joined by hundreds of other members of the U.S. House in calling on the Council on Environmental Quality to back down from the proposed rollbacks.
In the meantime, now, more than ever, we need your voice to help derail these terrible rollbacks to NEPA. If you haven’t yet, sign our petition and join thousands of others who are rising up to speak out for our environment and our voice.
Together, we can thwart Trump and his gang of polluters in the White House. Together, we can #ProtectNEPA.
Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Congress had the wisdom to designate Joshua Tree as a national park, one part of the California Desert Protection Act. The designation elevated these magical lands to one of the highest levels of protection possible for our nation’s public lands.
A quarter century ago I also joined the staff of WildEarth Guardians, and swore to protect, defend and restore the public lands that are central to the identity of the American West.
Anniversaries like these should be a time to celebrate the past; instead I’m worrying about the future. In the case of Joshua trees I worry because not even a national park designation is sufficient to protect them.
That’s because the climate crisis is warming our planet so fast that species, including Joshua trees, will not have the time to adapt. In fact, scientists from the UC-Riverside found that even under the best case scenario — meaning with aggressive action to reduce greenhouse emissions — only one in five Joshua trees will survive the next 50 years.
That’s a bleak scenario, one that WildEarth Guardians is doing everything in our power to prevent. It’s a Guardian’s duty to stand up to the government when the government isn’t doing its job. The Guardian’s charge is now ever more critical under an Administration that continue to disavow and deny the biodiversity and climate crises before us.
On Nov. 4, WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit challenging a Trump administration decision to ignore the science when it denied Endangered Species Act safeguards for the Joshua tree.
When the very icons and namesakes that define our national parks can no longer survive, we have a problem that should alarm every citizen of our great nation. Sadly, that is the reality we’re facing not only with the Joshua tree, but also with the disappearing glaciers of Glacier National Park and the declining Saguaros of Saguaro National Park.
Instead or working to remedy these problems the Trump administration is only making them worse. Whether through issuing oil and gas leases to allow fracking on millions of acres of public lands, attacking public participation in decisions affecting our national forests or recently eviscerating the Endangered Species Act this administration is undoing environmental safeguards at an unprecedented pace.
While the blueprint for destruction is being clearly deployed there’s also a countervailing restorative blueprint for our lands, wildlife and our democracy that invokes the power of the public voice. That blueprint keeps me hopeful during these dark times.
After all, there’s a long history of inspired citizens and a caring government protecting species and lands, including the Joshua tree. Marshaling science and engaging in legal action will no doubt extend the Joshua tree a lifeline, but these acts alone can’t save it.
The Joshua tree was named for its distinct, ascending branches that reminded early Mormon settlers of the Biblical figure Joshua, reaching his hands up to the sky in prayer. My prayer today is that the Joshua trees’ millions of fans — its famous musicians, poets, writers, and mystics among them — will speak out and refuse to allow the loss of such a beloved and irreplaceable figure of the natural world.
If they do so we can not only save the Joshua tree as an American treasure, but we can also reclaim and restore our democracy.
On October 19, 2019, WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project, represented by Western Environmental Law Center, notified Burlington Northern Railway Company of our intent to sue the business for its role in the deaths of numerous grizzly bears along its railways in Montana, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). This year alone, trains have killed at least eight grizzlies in Montana, including four grizzly cubs, two cubs within just the past two weeks, making 2019 the deadliest year on record for grizzly bear deaths by train.
Grizzly bears in the contiguous US have been listed as “threatened” under the ESA since 1975, making it illegal to “take” them pursuant to Section 9 of the ESA. This provision – which applies to all species listed for protection under the ESA, or at least it applied before the Trump administration gutted the ESA in September 2019 – means that it is unlawful for any person, including government officials and business entities, to harass, harm, or kill any listed species. Despite this provision, Burlington Northern’s railroad across the northern part of Montana has killed or contributed to the deaths of at least 52 grizzly bears from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (one of six grizzly ecosystems in the contiguous US) from 1980 to 2018.
Under the ESA, when a company’s activities may result in the killing of threatened or endangered species, it must apply for an “incidental take permit,” with Fish and Wildlife Services. This provision of the ESA requires that companies design, implement and secure funding for a habitat conservation plan, a plan that proposes solutions to mitigate the harm caused by its activities. Burlington Northern could take a variety of mitigating steps to prevent the deaths of grizzlies on railroads, such as scheduling trains outside of dawn and dusk hours, when grizzlies are more likely to be searching for food, ensuring that attractants – like carcasses– are promptly removed from the vicinity of train tracks, and creating wildlife crossings for grizzlies. For more than fifteen years, Burlington Northern has been aware of the problem and has failed to complete a habitat conservation plan or obtain an incidental take permit. And in the meantime, trains continue to kill protected grizzly bears, in the area surrounding Glacier National Park.
WildEarth Guardians and its partners are prepared to end this needless slaughter of grizzlies by ensuring that Burlington Northern complies with the ESA. The company is now on notice of our intent to sue unless it takes action to protect grizzly bears within the next 60 days.
Late on Friday, October 26, a federal court in Montana ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to adequately protect imperiled Canada lynx from the impacts of trapping in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The Service must now take a hard look at imposing conditions that truly prevent lynx from trapping.
The Service regulates the export of pelts and other animal parts from bobcats and other “furbearers” in the U.S. using a permit and tagging system—in conjunction with states, Tribes, and individual trappers—through an international treaty (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, or “CITES”). These pelts and animal parts are used in places including Russia and China for products like fur coats, which can require 50 bobcat pelts each. But the effects of this export program aren’t limited to bobcats: lynx are commonly caught in traps set for bobcats.
The Service issued a statement that specified how its export program affected lynx, as well as measures that would minimize its impact and how the Service would implement those measures. But the Service’s activities did not comply with this statement, a violation of the Endangered Species Act. The court’s message to the Service is loud and clear: the Service must take a more active role in preventing Canada lynx from being killed by trappers.
Read the press release.