WildEarth Guardians

A Force for Nature

Select Page

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 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.

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.

Last month, hundreds of thousands of birds dropped dead out of the skies of New Mexico, in a scene reminiscent of a Hollywood disaster movie. The world is facing an extinction crisis, a biodiversity collapse. Events such as this are likely to become more common.

The rapid loss of plants and animals across the globe is nothing new, scientists and conservationists have been raising the alarm for decades. But this nightmare—literally happening in our backyards—puts the catastrophe in stark relief and should make every New Mexican rise up to demand action from state leadership. New Mexico is one of the most biodiverse states in the union. We host both subtropic species and subarctic species and our range of ecosystems, plants, and critters is part of our cultural heritage and our economic future. Biodiversity is an asset worth bending over backwards to protect.

But who or what protects the great biodiversity of New Mexico?  The agency theoretically tasked with this consequential job is the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. But the Department is primarily interested in promoting hunting and propagating species of interest to hunters and anglers. Most state wildlife agencies are the same in terms of focus.

Game and Fish sometimes does a praise-worthy job at protecting wildlife, but often policies have little to do with conservation. Oryx brought in from Africa in the late 1960s to excite and lure hunters with the prospect of “exotic species” are now imperiling Chihuahuan Desert grasslands. The Department pays six figures a year to private trappers who kill native mountain lions for the expressed purpose of recovering desert bighorn sheep. But then the Department turns around and sells tags to hunt said bighorn sheep. Millions of non-native trout are dumped into New Mexico’s waterways even while native species like Cutthroat and Gila trout struggle with shrinking ranges.

Emails promoting hunting and fishing are seemingly the agency’s bread and butter. An April email instructed the public on how to make “Dutch oven doves.” And of course, the Department allows unlimited killing of furbearers like bobcats, foxes, badgers, and beavers by private, commercial trappers, even encouraging children to take part.

New Mexico needs a Department of Wildlife. Or a Department of Biodiversity. Or an agency by any name that is willing to put its resources into staving off the collapse of our wildlife rather than sharing recipes for sandhill crane (another recent offering from Game and Fish).

To be clear, this is not a criticism of ethical subsistence hunting—in a good year my family has Chama-area elk in the freezer. And on many weekends, I can be found casting flies on our gorgeous rivers and streams. I know NMDGF staff who are knowledgeable, hardworking, and true conservationists. Moreover, the Department alone doesn’t dictate its mission. Funding and laws guide the agency towards serving hunters and hunting. And the Department doesn’t even have management authority over many species.

An overriding question for most state wildlife agencies is, “how do we stay relevant?” This was a focal topic at the 2019 Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies meeting. The answer has never been more obvious: protect biodiversity. There are literally birds falling out of the sky en masse. Our ecosystems are at risk. What New Mexico urgently needs is an agency that will confront the most relevant crises of our generation.

Game and Fish has had plenty of time to shift its focus. Climate change and extinction are not exactly new. For years, advocates have encouraged the Department to protect all wildlife, to diversify its funding to achieve this new and necessary goal, and to put long-term economic and ecological health over—or at the very least alongside—hunting. Our wildlife and plant populations don’t have the luxury of waiting any longer.

The federal government is fast-tracking annihilation. U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s mission has changed under Trump towards supporting hunting and fishing, developing energy and natural resources, and “protecting people and our border.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency in charge of protecting imperiled species, requested a stunningly paltry $9 million to list and delist endangered species and designate critical habitat. Most of that money appears to be spent de-listing species that have not yet actually recovered. Hunting was even expanded in National Wildlife Refuges this year as the backlog of species needing protection and headed towards extinction grows even longer.

New Mexico needs to lead. Our State Wildlife Action Plan is underfunded. Resources are spent recruiting hunters instead of recovering imperiled wildlife. Yes, money is hard to find. And yes, there are challenging sidebars that need to come down. Change takes time. But our wildlife does not have time.

The Department and our elected leaders need to do some soul searching. New revenues, new ideas, new stakeholders, and a new direction have never been more important.

We need a wildlife conservation agency, not more bird recipes.

As wildfires burn in parts of California and the Pacific Northwest, we could all use some good news like the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voting to ban wildlife killing contests by a 7-2 vote on September 11, 2020. The ban prohibits wildlife killing contests involving any species that could be killed in unlimited numbers, or without a “bag limit,” including coyotes. This is great news for Washington where, over a five-year span, killing contests resulted in the deaths of over 1,400 coyotes.

Because of wildlife advocates like you, coyotes will be spared from this fate for years to come. A special shout-out to over 2,000 WildEarth Guardians members and supporters who told the Fish and Wildlife Commission to end these cruel wildlife killing contests.

Not only is this win great news for Washington, it represents tremendous momentum in our efforts to end the war on wildlife across the West. Washington joins Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Massachusetts, and Vermont in banning this brutal blood sport. Notably, five of these bans happened in the last 18 months alone—demonstrating strong public support for the ethical treatment of wildlife moving with unstoppable energy throughout the country.

We thank the wildlife commissioners and committed wildlife advocates who demanded an end to these contests across a broad swath of the American West. But our fight isn’t over. Guardians believes that killing contests have no place in our society and envisions a future in which wildlife killing contests are banned nationwide.

With your continued support, we believe an ethical future is within reach.

Thank you to all who helped drive this over the line in Washington and in other states! Slowly but surely, we are stopping the cruelty and remaking the American West into a hospitable place for native wildlife.

Let’s take a moment to celebrate good news for wolves in Washington! Thanks to guardians like you, our message was heard loud and clear: Washington’s iconic wolves deserve protection and non-lethal management should be prioritized.

During the past two weeks, more than 8,500 of you took action by urging Governor Jay Inslee to approve our appeal for better wolf management rules. On September 4, Gov. Inslee heard you and directed the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to initiate a new rulemaking process to develop “clear” and “enforceable” measures designed to avoid the repeated slaughter of wolves in the state, which has resulted in 34 dead wolves since 2012.

Rulemaking is a transparent process which allows for public input. The process also requires that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife consider the use of science-backed, non-lethal measures to deter livestock-wolf conflicts and examine chronic conflict zones where problems have occurred year after year. Washington has the opportunity to be a leader in wolf management and this is an exciting step towards a better future for wolves in the state and across the West.

You and other wolf advocates helped make this victory possible, and your voices will certainly be needed again as we enter the rulemaking process. For today, join us in celebrating this important step toward better rules for Washington’s wolves and know that your continued support and partnership will enable us to keep defending wolves throughout the American West.

In good news for wildlife coexistence, Gov. Jay Inslee has directed the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to draft new rules governing the killing of wolves involved in conflicts with livestock. This action reverses the commission’s denial of a petition filed by WildEarth Guardians and our allies in May that called for reform of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s lethal wolf-management policies.

The new rules will address the use of science-backed non-lethal measures to avoid livestock-wolf conflicts. They will likely further examine chronic conflict areas where the state has killed wolves year after year. The state has killed 34 wolves since 2012. Twenty-nine were killed for the same livestock owner in prime wolf habitat in the Colville National Forest. After the Fish and Wildlife Commission denied the wolf advocates’ petition in June, the groups appealed to the governor, who had 45 days to decide whether to deny the appeal or require the commission to create new wolf-management rules.

“Demonstrating a commitment to environmental leadership, Gov. Inslee has put the Department on notice: It’s time for better rules, and public transparency, when it comes to Washington’s iconic wolves. The killing of the entire Wedge Pack this year was unacceptable; it has happened before and it should never happen again,” said Samantha Bruegger, Wildlife Coexistence Campaigner at WildEarth Guardians. “A huge thank you to WildEarth Guardians members and supporters who sent Gov. Inslee over 8,500 emails and made a ton of phone calls over the past few weeks. Together, we will end the war on wolves and other native wildlife.”

Read the press release.

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 health of native species plays an important role in keeping ecosystems thriving and stable. Each species from ponderosa pines to grizzly bears are essential building blocks for the complexity and beauty of Earth’s ecosystems. Wildlife management initiatives directly affect the structure of these ecosystems. Unfortunately, lethal measures are often the solution for wildlife management.

Lethal practices against large carnivores such as grizzly bears, wolves, and Canada Lynx are expensive and detrimental to the livelihood of the species. These practices are employed when a carnivore is a perceived threat to livestock. Trapping and killing of carnivores in favor of livestock is destructive and ineffective because there are coexistence methods where both carnivores and livestock can thrive.

Because wildlife is managed in the public trust, it is our duty as citizens, leaders, and community members to protect and nurture all wildlife. There are several ways to get involved such as contacting federal agencies or other organizations who create coexistence plans. Another effective way to share your opinions on coexistence management is through public commenting on federal agency action plans that would impact large carnivores and livestock.

An agency is more likely to consider a comment that is clear, concise, and relevant to the proposed action. As a citizen, you have valuable information that the agency can use in its environmental review of the action, and possible to modify the action. Whether you are a scientist, environmental organization member, community leader or a citizen who is interested in wildlife coexistence, your input matters and can shape the agency’s response to wildlife conservation.

Here is a link to a legal memorandum I wrote about effective ways to write public comments about coexistence.

Grace Erispaha is a rising senior at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota pursuing an undergraduate degree in Economics and Environmental Studies. She interned with the legal team at WildEarth Guardians on wildlife coexistence research.