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The proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” may well have been crafted with Guardians Staff Attorney Daniel Timmons in mind. From small-town water resources expert to reluctant corporate lawyer to undaunted climate Guardian, Timmons’s career is an odyssey of reinvention that on August 1, 2022 brought him to the helm of the Guardians Wild Rivers program.

From science to law

Growing up on the beaches outside Charleston, South Caroline, Timmons had limited exposure to the West until college, when he participated in anenvironmental science and policy program in Arizona. There he fell in love with the desert—and with remedying its entrenched water issues. His interest in water led to a master’s in environmental sciences and policy from Northern Arizona University, for which he conducted a thesis project updating an existing groundwater model for a growing area north of Phoenix. Eerily, Timmons ran into trouble getting the model to run until the present day; it kept predicting the area’s water would start to dry up long beforehand. “It was definitely an eye-opening experience,” he says.

Post degree, Timmons parlayed his research experience into a water resources specialist job with the small town of Chino Valley in north-central Arizona. There he attempted to strike a balance between finding a new source of groundwater for the parched town and mitigating the impacts of taking that water from the hotly contested Verde River. Unfortunately, the town suffered dire financial distress in the Great Recession, resulting in mass layoffs that included Timmons—but not before he had a revelation that set him on the path from environmental scientist to environmental attorney.

“My boss and I had been working on an in-depth presentation on the water crisis facing the town, trying to open the eyes of the council that this was a death knell,” he says. But when the presentation ended, the council members did not ask Timmons or his boss a single question. They sought the opinion of only one person: the town attorney.

“We were the experts, and they looked to the town attorney to give them advice. I said, well, I need to be sitting in that chair!” Timmons says.

A year later, he enrolled at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.

A great escape

When he graduated from Lewis & Clark mid-recession, recently married, and $150,000 in debt, Timmons’s journey took a darker turn. Out of desperation, he took a job as a corporate environmental lawyer.

As Timmons details in a speech he delivered at the 2019 Guardians Gala: “For four years, I helped take fresh water out of flowing rivers. I helped [my corporate clients] evade responsibility for decades of toxic pollution. I even secured permits for new fossil fuel plants and a massive gas pipeline…I continued on autopilot, cashing paychecks as an environmental lawyer working against the environment.”

Only when he unexpectedly found himself working “on the right side of things,” fighting an oil-by-rail terminal on the Columbia River in collaboration with cities and towns, Indigenous Tribes, and environmental lawyers working on behalf of conservation, did he vow to extricate himself from corporate work.

It was easier said than done, requiring a move back to South Carolina to get his foot in the door with public interest environmental law. Finally, after nearly two years as an associate attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charleston, he was hired as a Guardians’ staff attorney in 2019.

Daniel cross-country skiing in the Valles Caldera National Preserve of northern New Mexico.

On the right side of things

Timmons’s litigation at Guardians has primarily focused on halting fossil fuel development on public lands and protecting the imperiled wild rivers of the Southwest. He’s more than living up to his promise as a climate guardian and has stepping up to lead Guardian’s river work, building on his expertise and critical legal analysis.

His most recent sweeping success came in June, when the U.S. Department of the Interior agreed to reassess and reconsider more than 2,000 oil and gas leases across four million acres of public lands in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. While the bedrock litigation for the win was filed prior to Timmons’s arrival at Guardians, he was directly responsible for dismantling the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s flawed analysis of fracking’s climate impacts.

“The BLM analysis was a lot of sleight of hand, the kind that agencies often get away with. They can just rely on their technical analysis and then hope the court will say, ‘That seems really confusing. The agency must know what it’s doing,’” Timmons says.

Thanks to his work, the court instead decided the BLM needed to go back to the drawing board and redo its environmental analysis. “And from our perspective, there is just no way that the agency can take an honest look at four million acres of oil and gas leasing and say, ‘That does not have a significant environmental impact,’” Timmons says.

Timmons is also engaging in a multipronged effort to address climate and air quality impacts plaguing New Mexico, particularly in the Permian Basin. Right now, Guardian’s is challenging New Mexico’s continued issuance of air permits to oil and gas facilities without considering how this would affect the state’s ozone levels. The goal is to leverage the Clean Air Act to ensure New Mexico’s poor air quality does not affect neighboring states. Timmons has also led the petitioning of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate southeastern New Mexico and parts of West Texas as “nonattainment” zones for ozone—triggering additional requirements, permitting obligations, and a state plan to comply with federal ozone pollution standards.

To Timmons, however, perhaps his proudest achievement as a Guardian, so far, is a simple one: “I got oil spills banned in New Mexico.” When he realized there was no legislation on the books prohibiting oil spills, “everybody I talked to, I said, ‘Can you believe this?’ and they said, ‘No, that can’t be right,’” he says. Even the oil and gas industry had no argument against such a law. As a result, in a rare show of solidarity, Guardians and the state agency regulating oil and gas partnered to propose a rule change that forbids drillers from spilling oil and fracking waste in New Mexico. In June 2021, New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Commission granted the change after a public hearing arranged by Timmons, Guardians’ organizing team, and a coalition of other groups.

It’s the type of collaboration he witnessed and envied as a corporate lawyer, only he’s “on the right side of things” for good this time around. Timmons has recently stepped into his newest role as the Guardian’s Wild River Director to help bring together climate change impacts and the health and viability of water in the southwest.

“I just feel like I’m blessed with the skills and the opportunity and the legal background to try to make a difference on one of the most important issues of our time,” he says.

We couldn’t agree more.

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June 1 marks the beginning of National Rivers Month, a month to celebrate the life-giving waterways across the United States.

The hard truth is, many of these waterways are under threat like never before. Across the American West the impacts of climate change continue to intensify. Complicating and exacerbating those effects are water management structures that have foisted over a century of unsustainable water use and injustices on ecosystems and communities. Use your voice to stand up for living rivers today.

Interstate compacts are based on hydrologic scenarios that no longer exist—and are unlikely to exist in the future. The needs of species and ecosystems are minimized. And communities have been cut off from the clean water and healthy rivers they depend on. Western rivers and the human, plant, and wildlife communities that depend on them are in crisis. We need you to act today to protect the rivers of the West.

This month we are celebrating rivers all across our nation. We believe that celebration must include working to protect and restore these arteries of life. The road ahead is not an easy one. We must fundamentally shift Western water management to rethink how we value and manage river systems. Management must include the needs of all water uses for the benefit of both people and the environment. But all of that is impossible without you. Use your voice today to stand up for living rivers and clean water.

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The Rio Grande is a river in crisis. The third-longest river in the United States, this pulse of life stretches from its headwaters, nestled in the San Juan Range of the Colorado Rockies, to the Gulf of Mexico. It has shaped the landscape ecologically, economically, and culturally. But centuries of mismanagement and living outside of the river’s means has left dwindling flows and the river dries more frequently and for longer stretches seemingly every year. This summer, WildEarth Guardians wanted to capture some of the ecological impacts of the drying of the Rio Grande. But we also wanted to capture the ways that humans connect with this artery of life and, perhaps more importantly, the loss experienced when those connections are severed.

To accomplish this we hired Javier Gallegos, a journalism student from New Mexico State University, and tasked him with traveling throughout the Upper Rio Grande Basin, from northern New Mexico through the state, to El Paso, Texas. Below Javier has compiled a photo essay with some of his favorite photos from his summer travels that help illustrate how much we have to lose by not protecting this vital waterway. Take a look at the photos below and then use your voice to stand up for a Living Rio. 

Chiflo Trail’s steep terrain and loose rock took about 45 minutes to hike and ended right by the river. It was the most secluded place along the Rio Grande we traveled to as the high walls and meandering river meant we saw no one else in the two hours we were down there. July 20, 2021.

The Big Arsenic Trail presented perhaps the highest visibility sight on the trip as we could see for miles in the direction of the river. Located within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, the bubbling rapids below bounced off the canyon walls, amplifying the sound as we traversed down. July 20, 2021.

Clouds covered and diffused sunlight during our visit to the Rio Grande Gorge. There were well over a hundred people between the trails, the bridge, and the rest area. Locals and foreigners alike marveled at the beauty of the views. July 19, 2021.

Blue Dot Trial in White Rock was difficult to traverse during the July heat, but the views made it well worth it. A few other hikers crossed our path and told us of a waterfall nearby, which unfortunately alluded us. July 18, 2021.

A blue heron eats at Siphon/Trailhead Beach in Corrales. This is one of the places we visited multiple times. There were families and couples here even into the fall. The shore provides soft sand to lay out beach towels for swimming in the shallow waters of the river. August 12, 2021.

Our Rio Grande Campaigner’s dog Mardy, enjoys the view at Pueblo Montaño Park in Albuquerque after swimming in the river. She brings her to this park regularly as Mardy loves swimming and walking the easy trail where many other people and their pets alike spend their time. August 12, 2021.

The Rio Grande is clay-red near the man-made Tingley Beach in Albuquerque during mid summer. It was the only time I’ve seen a river this color before or since. July 17, 2021

The river access near the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque has a meandering path as the river’s low flow revealed wet patches of sand. We saw tracks of various birds and wildlife in the drying sand, highlighting the medley of life the river supports. June 15, 2021.

A young woman sits in the river while her friends prepare to fish at Riverside Park in Los Lunas. They said they all hang out at the park regularly because it has easy river access and gives them a place to fish and gather on a whim. June 14, 2021

A small, whiptail lizard found along the trail that borders the river in Socorro, New Mexico. Over half of the vertebrate species known to occur throughout New Mexico use aquatic or riparian habitats at some point in their life cycle. June 16, 2021

A train passed by moments after taking this picture at the San Marcial Railroad Bridge. Located on the Armendaris Ranch, the stretch of the Rio Grande this bridge crosses over frequently dries. June 16, 2021.

The San Acacia Diversion dam diverts water for irrigation in the middle Rio Grande valley. Unfortunately, this dam also serves as a barrier that prevents imperiled fish from migrating freely up river when flows recede. June 14, 2021.

A man sits reading right along the waterfront at Elephant Butte Reservoir while he waits for the bell to ring alerting of a caught fish. There were still hundreds of people recreating at the reservoir during the early fall despite the increasingly common low-temperature-days. September 18, 2021.

Las Cruces residents celebrate Independence Day with fireworks all along the riverbank at La Llorona Park. It’s a popular area throughout summer when water flows through the river again and families swim near-daily. Holidays are no exception. July 4, 2021

Vinton Bridge in Vinton, Texas, hosts many families looking to swim and gather during the summer. There were a few fathers and grandfathers fishing while their children were swimming downstream when I was there. July 2, 2021.

A mother waits for her daughter to join the rest of the family below the levee and onto the trail. Mary Frances Keisling Park in west El Paso is one the best places to see the Rio Grande in the city because of its paved sidewalks that hug the river for over a mile, in addition to its clear views of the Franklin Mountains. August 5, 2021.

The Playa Lateral Canal in the Rio Bosque Wetland Park in Socorro, Texas, is the closest you can get to the river as the border wall prevents access to it. The Rio Grande is directly on the other side of the wall. August 4, 2021.

TAKE ACTION! Tell your members of Congress to protect a living Rio Grande.

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Across the American West, rivers and streams are under threat like never before. Caught between the impacts of more than a century of unsustainable water use, archaic laws and policies and exacerbated by the growing effects of climate change, these imperiled streams could be lost if we don’t make a concerted effort to rethink how we value and manage New Mexico’s rivers and waters.

In 2018 Michelle Lujan Grisham outlined her plan for New Mexico’s water future. Built upon the foundation of stewardship, sustainability, and equity, she recognized how climate change is intensifying our water challenges and promised to develop a 50-year water plan for the state. Your voice is needed to ensure that New Mexico’s rivers, streams, fish, and wildlife are adequately considered in this plan.

The state recently released its Leap Ahead Assessment, which identifies both current and projected challenges and threats to New Mexico’s waters and serves as the basis for the 50-year water plan. But the 241-page document fails to prioritize some of the most important ways in which New Mexicans connect with the state’s waterways. Use your voice today to tell New Mexico state agencies that these are important values for all of us and cannot be excluded.

The Office of the State Engineer and Interstate Stream Commission are currently accepting written comments from members of the public through October 15, 2021. You can submit your comments via their comment portal here.

To assist you, we’ve compiled this list of talking points that you may want to include in your comments to the State of New Mexico:

  • The purpose of the 50-year water plan is to “rethink how we manage our water supply.” If New Mexico is serious and committed to this idea, any planning efforts must include the needs of the environment;
  • The three basic principles the Governor outlined to guide water management in the state are stewardship, sustainability, and equity; therefore, the process must be inclusive of all water values;
  • New Mexicans value the rivers, streams, and plant, fish, and wildlife communities that depend on them. They’re too important to lose;
  • Ecological health. The Leap Ahead Assessment does not adequately address the ecological health of rivers and streams across the state. Your comments will be most impactful if you can include the ways in which you engage with rivers and streams across the state, like taking walks through the Bosque with your dog, cooling off on a hot summer day with your kids, or picnicking along the banks of your favorite river with friends and family;
  • Endangered species are not mentioned at all in the 241-page draft. While projected effects to vegetation, fish, and wildlife species are mentioned briefly, the draft focuses on upland vegetation species and does not meaningfully address the plethora of native fish and wildlife species that depend on both riverine and riparian habitats in the state. Outlining recovering endangered species as a value you hold dear and time spent birdwatching or boating to view New Mexico’s diverse array of plant, fish, and wildlife species will make your comments most effective;
    • There are a total of 59 species in New Mexico federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. The Rio Grande silvery minnow, the southwestern willow flycatcher, and the yellow-billed cuckoo are just a few examples of species that are both federally protected and can be harmed by water management decisions. Any water planning effort must take into account how future conditions will impact these and other imperiled species;
  • Recreation. The effects of climate change on the recreational economy of the state are not addressed in the Leap Ahead Assessment. Recreation is estimated to contribute 35,000 direct jobs, $1.2 billion in wages and salaries, and add a total value of $2.4 billion to the state’s economy. Recreation is only mentioned once in the entire 214 pages of the assessment. Including how you and your family recreate in and around the rivers and streams of New Mexico will make your comments most powerful;
  • The Leap Ahead Analysis Assessment largely represents the rivers and streams of New Mexico more as pipelines, existing to move water from point a to point b. But these precious waterways would be better thought of as living entities that many different communities, including humans, depend on; and
  • Rivers bring greater value than the mere volume of their flows. The future of New Mexico’s rivers and riparian corridors for all life must be adequately considered and be given equal weight in any planning process.

The Governor and agencies of New Mexico need to know that you care about a healthy environment for both people and wildlife. Your comments will be most impactful if you can share how you interact with New Mexico’s waterways and highlight how important ensuring these values are maintained going forward is to you and your community.

Again, please be sure to submit your comments to the Office of the State Engineer and Interstate Stream Commission by 11:59 pm on October 15, 2021. If you have questions on how to best structure your comments, contact Tricia at tsnyder@wildearthguardians.org or 505-396-1752.

In the heat of the summer, residents of the Rio Grande flock to its shores as the river flow brings life to its communities. The time spent with the river has been diminishing decade after decade as these communities have grown accustomed to the Rio being dry significantly longer than it’s not. But when there is water in the river, people waste no time to meet and bond along its banks.

Over the course of the summer, I have been taking pictures of the central Rio Grande to document its flow over time and how people connect with it. Having grown up on the eastside of El Paso, Texas, I was unfamiliar with how much the river means to some people. Our community has grown disconnected from it because of the border wall and other water policy decisions, but while on assignment, I quickly learned the significance it still has to its many communities.

During my first visit to central New Mexico, I stopped by Riverside Park in Los Lunas. After a brief trail walk that was made unforgettable by the raining cotton that danced to the ground after falling from the cottonwoods native to the area, I made it to the river. It flowed under a bridge supported by graffitied pillars.

Main St. NE bridge over the Rio Grande. Photo by Javier Gallegos.

I was immediately greeted by a trio of teens swimming in the river. The sound of rap music blasting from their portable speaker didn’t feel out of place as the sound of cars driving above interrupted any sense of ambient natural sound.

Only a minute of picture-taking passed before one of them shouted at me asking what I was doing. I explained that my assignment was to take pictures of the river. They all swam closer to me on the bank as they became engaged in telling me everything they knew about it: the flow was currently about as high as it gets; Tome Hill has a great view of the river; the water is nearly all gone by fall.

One of the high schoolers jumps through tube floats into the river. Photo by Javier Gallegos.

Their hospitality and eagerness to talk about the river surprised me, but it would become a common experience throughout my assignment.

Shortly after I parted ways, a separate group of five friends in their early twenties arrived. Like the three high schoolers I had spoken to prior, they were intrigued by my camera and asked what I was doing here. They thought my assignment was pretty cool. The small talk they made with me eased my mind and let me relax when I asked if I could take their picture. They casually obliged.

I spent the next two hours with them by the river.

They came prepared with cans of Coke, water, fishing rods, bait, and hip-hop instrumentals. The first bits of conversation I caught revolved around the events of a party the previous weekend where clumsy attempts of love were made.

As stories played out and conversation wound down, a freestyle randomly began to my delight. One of the boys started rapping; another took out his phone and started playing a beat; the next jumped in with his own rhymes to turn the freestyle into a cypher. They rapped fluently about cars, money, and each other.

Fishing was the next thing to do. They had two rods and a can of worms between them. Their street clothes and light gear told me they’re hobbyists who perhaps only fish because it’s easy to do with the river full. Two fish were caught while I was there. Both were released after a quick picture.

Andress, Greg, Carlos, and Jules (left to right) pose with a catfish briefly before releasing it back into the water. Photo by Javier Gallegos.

An hour or so after the group arrived, an old, bearded, shirtless man rode his bike down to meet us by the river. The group cheerfully greeted him as if he too was a part of their graduating class. He offered them all beers, and they gladly accepted. It was a wholesome relationship the old man had with the group – an unlikely one that was made possible by their mutual hanging out by the river. Together, they talked, fished, and drank.

The old man told me his name was River Rat. He wore a bright bandana and knew of the best deals at the beer depots around the area. He spent much of his time by the river and its banks, so much so that he named himself after it.

River Rat handing out beers. Photo by Javier Gallegos.

I left right before sunset as I had to check into my room before nightfall. Had I not been forced to leave, I would have stayed hours longer with the people that welcomed me to their spot along the river. Three of them left at the same time I did to go get dinner for the other three that stayed fishing. Everything they needed, they brought with them back to the river.

All this happened within just a few hours of being at a normal park along the Rio Grande. People all along the river connect with it every chance they get. As the fight for the river and natural preservation continues, its moments like these and the bonds that they create that remind us why the river matters.

Francis sitting down in the river. Photo by Javier Gallegos.

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Note: The following testimony was given before the EPA and Department of the Army on August 31, 2021 regarding the agency’s intention to revise the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) to better protect our nation’s water resources.

Good afternoon, my name is Jen Pelz. I am the Rio Grande Waterkeeper and Wild Rivers Program Director, WildEarth Guardians. We work to protect river flows, safeguard clean water, and restore the ecological integrity of the Rio Grande and other river ecosystems for people and wildlife throughout the West.

I am here, on both a personal and professional level, on behalf of myself, my two young daughters, as a Waterkeeper, and as a representative of the members and supporters of WildEarth Guardians to ask that the agencies to welcome yesterday’s decision by Judge Hernandez to vacate the rule and ask the agencies to direct the Department of Justice to not appeal that decision. We also request that the agencies immediately begin reviewing all the jurisdictional determinations made under the Navigable Water Protection Rule and put all your resources into restoring the pre-2015 definition of “waters of the United States.”

The Navigable Water Protection Rule (or more aptly named the Dirty Water Rule) is contrary to the fundamental purpose and pinnacle objective of the Clean Water Act—“to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters” and as the agencies and courts have recognized “is leading to significant environmental degradation,” including “cascading, cumulative, and substantial downstream effects, including but not limited to effects on water supplies, water quality, flooding, drought, erosion, and habitat integrity.”

This harm is particularly significant in the Rio Grande watershed—which is the fifth largest watershed in North America (encompassing 336,000 square miles, an area larger than the state of Texas)—as the rule removed clean water protections from more than 90% of waterways in New Mexico.

As an example, in New Mexico, as of June 30, 2021 there were 197 negative jurisdictional determinations under the rule and only two positive. One of those determinations excluded an ephemeral stream that flows from the Los Alamos National Laboratory into the Rio Grande (the labs are a well known source of radioactivity and legacy pollution in northern New Mexico). Downstream from that now unprotected stream discharge into the Rio Grande, the City of Santa Fe pumps its drinking water to my parents’ home. The culture, communities, and agriculture of six downstream pueblos is threatened. Three national wildlife refuges, including the first urban refuge created to address environmental injustice to communities in Albuquerque’s South Valley, and their vital ecosystems and recreational opportunities are left vulnerable. And near and dear to my heart—the last 175 miles of remaining aquatic habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow, a vital riparian habitat for many other species of fish, wildlife, and plants from Cochiti Dam to Elephant Butte Reservoir is unprotected from upstream pollutants.

We in the Rio Grande Basin and throughout this country need strong, broad clean water protections for rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, cienegas, ditches, arroyos and other waterways—even those that only flow at certain times during the year—because these networks of desert waterways are all connected.

We support the restoration of the pre-2015 definition of “waters of the United States” without any modifications. It is consistent with the goals of the Clean Water Act and was in place for nearly four decades prior to these recent changes. We also ask that these agencies immediately review and reverse the jurisdictional determinations made under the rule.

Thank you for the opportunity and look forward to the agencies restoring broad clean water protections to the Rio Grande watershed and throughout the country.

Water is life and protecting it has never been more important.  

For four years the Trump administration ruthlessly attacked some of America’s most fundamental clean water protections, placing the interests of polluters and profits over the well-being of people and the environment. Your voice is now needed to ensure protections to these life-giving waters are restored.

The pinnacle of these attacks, Trump’s 2020 Dirty Water Rule, left over 60 percent of our beloved rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, and other waters vulnerable to severe environmental degradation. In the desert Southwest, it’s even more grim with over 90 percent of rivers, arroyos, and streams losing federal protection.

Tens of millions of Americans depend on these waters for their drinking water, for recreation, to nourish crops and cherished landscapes, in addition to the countless plant and wildlife communities that depend on them for their survival. We cannot wait to restore clean water protections.

Guardians and our allies continue to push hard to ensure the health of living rivers throughout the American West. But we need your help. Use your voice today to take a stand for clean water and tell federal agencies that leaving our nation’s waters vulnerable to polluters and special interests is unacceptable—they must immediately repeal the 2020 Dirty Water Rule while they are working on a revision.

The EPA and the Department of the Army are currently accepting written comments from members of the public through September 3, 2021. You can submit your comments via Regulations.Gov here.

To assist you, we’ve put together this comprehensive list of talking points that you may want to include in your comments to the EPA and the Department of the Army:

  • The Clean Water Act was enacted to provide drinkable, fishable, and swimmable water to every person in the United States;
  • The Clean Water Act protects “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) if a water body is not defined under WOTUS, it has no protection;
  • The 2020 Dirty Water Rule redefined WOTUS, removing protections from many of our nation’s water bodies, and is the biggest reduction in environmental protections since the Clean Water Act’s passage nearly 50 years ago;
  • The 2020 Dirty Water Rule was one of the most egregious examples of the Trump administration’s attacks on our most fundamental environmental protections;
  • It is not enough to commit to revising this rule, it must be immediately rescinded while a revision is being worked on;
  • In their own words, the EPA and US Army Corps of Engineers recognize the “significant environmental damage” this rule has caused and that “communities deserve to have our nation’s waters protected;”
  • The Dirty Water Rule has had catastrophic effects on waters across the US, opening up over 60 percent of our nation’s rivers, lakes, wetlands, and other water to pollution and other degradation;
  • This includes over 90 percent of rivers and streams in the desert Southwest, including most of the streams that flow into the Rio Grande;
  • We are deepening our understanding of the ways that wetlands can help to mitigate climate change but also how deeply sensitive they are to these changes, with growing impacts from climate change in the American West, it is irresponsible not to protect these landscapes;
  • Intermittent and ephemeral streams are important parts of arid and semi-arid climatic regimes but are also under increasing threats due to climate change—these streams are largely unprotected under the current rule;
  • The rule revision process is one which may take years, our nation’s waters cannot wait that long;
  • Low-income and communities of color already bear the brunt of too many of our environmental crises, leaving this rule intact will leave this communities vulnerable to impacts from pollution and flooding;
  • It is an environmental justice imperative that this rule be immediately rescinded;
  • Returning to the days where 2/3 of our nation’s waterways were dangerously polluted is a non-starter.

Again, please make sure to submit your comments to the EPA and the Department of the Army by September 3, 2021. Short on time? Sign our petition.

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As the global pandemic rages, I am set adrift without connection to my home anchor.

This charmed place with the monochromatic desert landscapes and auburn central river are but a distant memory. I breath in the thirsty air and watch a pair of coyotes skulk through the urban refuge in my hometown. The geese snub the prowlers, yet disperse at the bright call of a meadowlark.

Even then, a dark veil of uncertainty washes over me—unease as to what lies ahead.

The Rio Grande, like many western rivers, is experiencing a collision of crises threatening its future, the future of the aquatic and riparian ecosystems it supports, and the communities and cultures that are at its heart.

Like the endless murder of crows I watch congregate in the crooked branches of an elderly cottonwood, doom is near for this lifeblood of the desert Southwest.

Life exists along the Rio Grande because of the sacrifice made by this Great River to nourish the environment and the 6 million people that inhabit the watershed from the crisp snowcapped mountains of Colorado to the humid and vast Gulf of Mexico.

It is now our turn to show gratitude by charting a new course for a sustainable future for this icon of the West.

The Rio Grande watershed is the fifth largest in North America, draining 336,000 square miles, which is an area larger than the state of Texas. Here, where I am transfixed on a juvenile bald eagle scanning the Bosque at sunset, the riparian corridor represents only one percent of the landscape. However, it is home to over 400 species of native fish, wildlife and plants, including beloved sandhill cranes, speckled Rio Grande cutthroat trout, reclusive ocelot, charismatic yellow-billed cuckoo, and the oldest and largest cottonwood forest in the world.

Ecosystem collapse is all but certain for this desert river without legal and political intervention and significant public outcry as to its value as a living river.

The Rio Grande does not have a right to its own water, unsustainable water use is causing its flows and aquifers to disappear, archaic laws and management prevent its flows from reaching the sea, extinction threatens many of its native species, and climate change is predicted to decrease available flows by an additional 25 to 50 percent by 2100.

I remember standing at the edge of the shimmering expanse of water, which today has only but a fleeting breath of water left to survive. In its absence, lost would be the calamity of cranes vying for safe island refuge among its waters, solace for human souls, and ancient ways of being.

To add insult to injury for the Rio, federal agencies issued a litany of rules over the past four years that remove fundamental environmental protections for clean water, native species, and public participation mandates for impacted communities with rollbacks of the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. The legal framework that helps support and protect these fragile environments, already heavily-burdened communities, and their life-source rivers are at risk.

We are at a moment of reckoning.

To be sure, we can continue to demand more of rivers and demolish the public health and environmental safeguards that protect the planet, its people, and its delicate ecosystems in the name of greed and false prosperity. But another more beautiful, likely more modest, and more equitable alternate future is possible for both people and the environment.

An acute power shift is necessary to realize this vision requiring people to step forward and others to open space. I am not talking about politics, although the same is true in that realm as well, but essential structural shifts in our homes, our workplaces, our communities, our watersheds, and our ecoregions.

My perception has always been that an ominous mass of crows looms dark. However, I’ve heard that in some native cultures, crows signify wisdom and luck. There is much wisdom left unheard and unseen that must be unleashed. If there was a time to liberate those voices, it is now. A different perspective can be magic.

WildEarth Guardians has submitted comments asking five individual national wildlife refuges along the Rio Grande in Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas to reconsider their proposals to carry out the Trump administration’s directive to expand hunting and fishing on national wildlife refuge lands. Our letter to the five wildlife refuges highlights the lack of protections for imperiled species and the conflict the expansion will create with existing public uses on the refuges.

The five wildlife refuges along the Rio Grande provide key habitat for at least 25 species listed and protected under the Endangered Species Act, including the ocelot, Gulf Coast jaguarundi, northern Aplomado falcon, Walker’s manioc, Rio Grande silvery minnow, and Southwestern willow flycatcher. The proposed hunting and fishing expansion will directly impact these species through habitat destruction and disturbance to possible direct harm and harassment. For example, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley refuge expansion, the hunt plan opens a tract to hunting where ocelot have been documented.

“We have an extinction crisis in the American West,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Expanding hunting and fishing in some of the most important protected habitat for imperiled species is beyond irresponsible, it’s negligent, and we plan to hold the agency accountable.”

Read the press release.

In an effort to protect living rivers and stop extinction, WildEarth Guardians submitted comments on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s latest attempt to limit habitat protections for the western yellow-billed cuckoo. On February 27, 2020, the Service released its revised critical habitat designation for the cuckoo, which dropped 30 percent of the habitat included in the original rule it proposed in 2014 and also identified vast exclusions for consideration especially in states like Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming and Texas, where populations are in greatest danger of disappearing.

The western yellow-billed cuckoo is a migratory bird that travels between its wintering grounds in South and Central America and its breeding grounds in the United States and Mexico. Cuckoo populations have declined drastically since the early 1900s due to habitat loss and modification. They were once found throughout the West from Canada to Mexico, but now are restricted to a few isolated breeding populations in California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, and possibly Nevada. The Rio Grande in central New Mexico is home to the largest breeding group of yellow-billed cuckoos north of Mexico. As a result of the species decline, the cuckoo was listed as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act on October 3, 2014. This critical habitat designation is the next step in ensuring the survival and recovery of the species.

“This is a shady attempt to backpedal on the original proposal for critical habitat,” said Jen Pelz, Rio Grande Waterkeeper and director of the rivers program at WildEarth Guardians. “The yellow-billed cuckoo is an iconic bird of western rivers, and protecting their habitat would protect healthy watersheds and clean water; too bad the Trump administration isn’t interested in things like that.”

Read the press release.