On June 29, WildEarth Guardians joined over 200 wildlife, conservation, and environmental justice groups in supporting several provisions of The Moving Forward Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 1, 2020. The $1.5 trillion infrastructure package includes a number of provisions identified in the groups’ recent $25 billion Restoring Work, Restoring Wild request to Congress. That request urged Congress to use the opportunity of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic to “revive the United States economy by investing $25 billion in new and existing conservation programs that will create hundreds of thousands of direct jobs and provide benefits to people, communities and the environment.”
Specific components of the Restoring Work, Restoring Wild request that are incorporated into The Moving Forward Act include:
- $300 million from the National Highway Performance Program for wildlife crossing project such as the construction of overpasses and underpasses for wildlife to safely cross highways to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.
- The bipartisan Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act, which provides critical funding for states, tribes, landowners and federal agencies to identify and protect wildlife corridors.
- A $3 billion grant program for coastal and Great Lakes resilience and restoration, as well as a separate grant program to build living shorelines to support flood resilience.
- $50 million per year for the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program, which has a proven history of success and has created many thousands of jobs while restoring fish and wildlife habitat.
- principles of environmental justice and generally maintains the integrity of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws.
The Moving Forward Act is a forward-looking effort to revive the economy and create good jobs while also addressing climate change, improving drinking water and air quality, and protecting fish and wildlife habitat. Instead of returning to “normal,” Congress has an opportunity—indeed a duty—to step up to safeguard the environment, workers and the public, and create more resilient ecosystems, public health benefits, and quality of life improvements in communities throughout the United States. The Moving Forward Act is a good first step.
Read the press release.
The U.S House of Representatives announced this week that the Moving Forward Act designed to improve green infrastructure and reduce climate impacts includes a provision called “The Forest Service Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program.” Incorporated from legislation previously introduced by U.S. Representatives Kim Schrier and Derek Kilmer from Washington state, this much-needed program will address aging and obsolete Forest Service transportation infrastructure to improve fish migration, water quality, imperiled species habitat, and future resilience to storms.
The U.S. Forest Service manages a massive road and trail system, including more than 370,000 miles of roads, 159,000 miles of trails, hundreds of thousands of culverts and more than 13,000 bridges. Twice as many miles as the national highway system, the Forest Service road system demands considerably more maintenance attention than current funding allows and every year the deferred maintenance backlog grows. The Forest Service currently reports an astounding $3.2 billion road maintenance backlog. In addition to the official road system, the National Forests are haunted by a ghost system of tens of thousands of miles of abandoned and obsolete roads, a legacy of the big timber era.
“The Forest Service not only has a responsibility to uphold Clean Water Act standards set by the states, but also for the 3,400 communities that rely on national forests as drinking water sources,” said Marlies Wierenga, Pacific Northwest conservation manager for WildEarth Guardians. “This program gives the Forest Service a real tool to meet this responsibility. We thank Representatives Schrier and Kilmer for leading this effort to protect clean water.”
Read the press release.
The small crew of women met in the parking lot of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge at 9:00 AM sharp. They were armed with gloves, buckets, and trowels. Their mission: removing invasive plants from a newly established prairie dog colony.
The crew consisted of Lindsey Sterling-Krank and Jenny Bryant from the Prairie Dog Coalition; their volunteer Hannah Reeves; Pam Wanek, a prairie dog relocator; and Taylor Jones with WildEarth Guardians. The prairie dogs were recent transplants from a construction site in Parker, Colorado. The newly established colony was thriving; pups were up and about, and sentries chirped warning calls at the approach of humans. But the prairie dogs still needed a little help transforming their section of Rocky Flats back to healthy native prairie. And the crew was here to provide that help.
Dalmatian toadflax is very pretty, with yellow flowers resembling snapdragons. It was imported from Eurasia for its looks—then it went wild. It is one of the many nonnative plants crowding out natives in grasslands hammered by livestock grazing and other human uses.
The best way to get rid of Dalmation toadflax is simple hand-weeding. The crew waited until after a spring rain, and then quickly sprang into action to remove the weeds before they went to seed and spread. Removing this invasive plant makes room for native plants and flowers, restoring the grassland to its natural state.
Prairie dogs are a keystone species of the grassland—they trim vegetation, providing habitat patches for flowering plants and ground-nesting birds like mountain plovers. They turn the soil, increase water absorption, and redistribute nutrients. Their burrows are home to many other species including burrowing owls, snakes, salamanders, rabbits, and insects. And as a prey species, they provide sustenance to a wide variety of animals including black-footed ferrets, coyotes, badgers, swift foxes, bald and golden eagles, and ferruginous hawks.
But sadly, there are few places left where prairie dogs truly fulfill their keystone role. Human-caused threats stemming from crop agriculture, livestock grazing, energy development, residential and commercial development, prairie dog shooting, poisoning campaigns, and plague (an introduced disease) have caused the five species of prairie dogs to disappear from an estimated 87 to 99 percent of their historic range, depending on the species. With them went the black-footed ferret, now one of the most endangered animals in North America.
Restoring prairie dogs to their keystone role is a long-standing goal of both Prairie Dog Coalition and WildEarth Guardians, though the two groups work toward that goal in different ways. WildEarth Guardians has focused mainly on policy and law. The group tried for many years to get black-tailed prairie dogs listed under the Endangered Species Act. They also analyzed and graded state policies regarding prairie dogs for a decade. Prairie Dog Coalition’s main focus has been relocation of prairie dogs away from sites where they are in danger of being poisoned or bulldozed to protected sites like wildlife refuges or national grasslands. The two groups recently came together to create a guidance document for communities interested in implementing humane prairie dog management plans. Since most species of prairie dog are not protected under federal or state law, cities, towns, and municipalities can play an important role in prairie dog conservation and avoid unnecessary killing of prairie dogs by including prairie dogs in their planning processes. Good planning facilitates relocation projects like the one that saved the prairie dogs now thriving on Rocky Flats.
The project was a success—the crew removed a truckload of Dalmation toadflax. Weeding the vast expanse of prairie by hand may seem like a daunting task, but every bit of work is a step closer to a healthy, whole native grassland. With the prairie dogs keeping vigil behind them, the crew left at the end of the day with the satisfaction of knowing they’d made a tangible difference, even just for a small patch of prairie. Sometimes you have to be like a prairie dog; pick your small patch of ground, nurture and defend it, and know that together, you make up a great ecosystem of helping hands making it easier for nature to heal itself.
National forests and grasslands spread across almost 10% of the United States. They are held in trust for the American people—but are managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Unlike national parks, extractive activities like logging, mining, drilling, and livestock grazing are allowed on national forests. Yet these activities have left a legacy of deep scars on the landscape, pollution in the air and water, and continue to cause harm. Some of the biggest problems across these lands and waters stem from a crumbling road infrastructure—built for the logging boom in the 1970’s and now a disastrous liability, particularly under a changing climate.
It is critical that changes be made now to restore national forests and ensure they are more resilient. WildEarth Guardians developed this handout to share with all, which provides an abbreviated summary of the impacts from climate change related to transportation infrastructure as well as recommendations for adaptation. More details, as well as all references can be found in Section II of “Environmental Consequences of Forest Roads and Achieving a Sustainable Road System.”
I can’t help but steal the epigraph from Greg Grandin’s new book The End of the Myth (2019) to roll us into this week’s post. Award winning Canadian essayist and poet Anne Carson hits the mother of the All-American nail on the head with this quote, as if tolling the bell for the exceptionalism-fueled frontierism that has been propelling us deeper and deeper into denial and factionalism for decades, centuries even.
Last week we exchanged niceties with Turner’s Frontier Thesis. This week we’re going to accept Grandin’s premise, that we’ve reached the end of the “Western” frontier, and all the mythologies that have been buoyed up by it since the birth of this country. But instead of speculating about the further division and fear that has been wrought by this expiration of false frontier narratives, as Grandin does, I’d like to think instead about what this national “turning inward” could mean for large landscape conservation. If the duality of the emergent and constraining properties of the idea of the frontier were entirely a product of the American imagination, how can we harness the power of that social construction and use it now as the foundation for a new way of being together, with each other and with the world of wild around us.
But first, after last week’s ramble, I realized I’d failed to engage in one of the most important processes taught to me as a former student of linguistic anthropology: define your terms! Typically, I start by consulting my 1984 edition of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, Volume I, A-O. (The “compactness of this set of two 10 pound tomes that require a magnifying glass to read each entry continues to elude me.) I then researched any etymological historical essays that had been published regarding the word “frontier.” Both exercises proved to be fruitful and further fodder for my hypothesis of “reimagining the frontier for good.”
So now you know, I’m a word nerd. Judge me as you will. But stick with me here, friends. For, as the persecuted early 20th century Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin noted, “The word in language is half someone else’s.” In other words (no pun intended), each word carries a whole history of meaning that has preceded its current use. But it also holds a whole future potential of individual intention and expression. Each word undergoes a small metamorphosis with each new utterance.
The other fascinating piece of etymological history came from a JSTOR (which is generously offering FREE access right now because of COVID, check it out!) April 1948 edition of Agricultural History in an article by Fulmer Mood (no joke, that’s his name) titled, “Notes on the History of the Word Frontier.” Besides some amusingly anachronistic quotes from stodgy 19th century college presidents re: frontierism, my big takeaway was that the word frontier didn’t start to appear in popular vocabulary reference manuals with consistency until the 1920s and 30s, which is more than a few decades past when “the West was being won.” Not unlike the critique issued by Bernard DeVoto that was referenced in last week’s post, it seems likely that the idea of “the frontier” was a retrospective, romantic, myth-making device used to refashion American history in a way that justified bad behavior and rapacious appetites. But the word should not be discarded and its meaning written off as antediluvian.
Russian philosophy and out-dated academic publications aside, what I propose is that we take what the OED lists as the second definition of “frontier” as a verb: 1. To be a frontier, or as a frontier; to border on or upon, and 2. To look upon the frontier, boundary, or coast of; to face, and declare ourselves Frontierspeople. Let us rally around bold initiatives like Campaign for Nature’s 30X30 (sign the petition!), which insists that we must conserve 30% of our global lands and seas by 2030 in order to sustain life on Earth, including human life. Or Senator Tom Udall (NM) and Senator Michael Bennet’s (CO) 30X30 Resolution, which essentially sets a similar goal but focuses on US large landscape conservation. And support WildEarth Guardian’s Wild Places program, with campaigns like Rewild Lands and Waters, that endeavors to create healthy lands and waters for all the communities that depend upon them. We are actively frontiering. We are looking upon the frontier, facing the boundary of the human experience. And we are choosing a new way of defining ourselves, one that reckons with our dark past of settler colonialism, our self-entitled, self-interested exceptionalism, our inexcusable domination and oppression of the Other, in all its human and more-than-human incarnations. And now we reimagine the frontier of our own obligations, to one another and to our world, and we plant ourselves firmly on the side of responsible stewards of the land and advocates for health, for our environment, our community and the dynamic, coexistent relationship between the two.
Each week, the Greater Gila Campaign Team of Leia Barnett and Madeleine Carey will share what they are reading, listening to, and watching and how it shapes the connections they draw between the current crisis and their work to conserve large landscapes.
The Forest Service faces many challenges with its vastly oversized, under-maintained, and unaffordable transportation system. With over 370,000 miles of system roads and more than 137,000 miles of system trails, the network extends broadly across every national forest and grassland and through a variety of habitats, ecosystems and terrains. An impressive body of evidence demonstrates the harmful environmental consequences to water, fish, wildlife, and ecosystems as a whole from the agency’s vast road and trail system.
In 2014, The Wilderness Society conducted a comprehensive literature review of published articles documenting the impacts from forest roads and trails in a report titled, Transportation Infrastructure and Access on National Forests and Grasslands: A Literature Review. Since its release, the report’s findings and supporting documentation have been an invaluable tool for the conservation community helping bolster comments on Forest Service projects and plans, and by providing supporting evidence in efforts to help educate the public and decision makers.
Since the literature review’s initial release, the body of evidence demonstrating the harm from forest roads and motorized use continued to expand. Most notable is the list of reports and articles demonstrating that not only is the Forest Service’s transportation infrastructure highly vulnerable to climate change, but also that roads exacerbate climate change’s harmful effects to other resources. In addition, recent articles explain that protecting and expanding intact forests could be an important part of global efforts to promote natural climate change solutions. Returning roads to nature would restore the soil’s ability to sequester carbon. Expanding roadless areas would increase the ability of forests to remove excess carbon from the air. In addition, the intersection between forest roads and wildfires is an important dynamic, and several reports find a correlation between human ignitions and road access.
In order to capture the evolving science, WildEarth Guardians updated and revised The Wilderness Society’s 2014 report. Our paper, now titled The Environmental Consequences of Forest Roads and Achieving a Sustainable Road System, adds fifty-nine citations to the original review and features several new sections. Notably, our report discusses the agency’s failed efforts to reduce road impacts and how the Forest Service can make the system more sustainable.
The full report is available on the WildEarth Guardians website.
As “Stay Home-Stay Safe” orders have shrunk many of our worlds to the footprint of our house, apartment, or bedroom, I find myself noticing the smaller world of fresh blossoms on the red flowering currant or the new bird song that was added to this week’s chorus. I also notice the dirt in the corners of my home, the water stains on the windows, the peeling paint, and, and, and….
Yet, what I really start dreaming about are the wild places in the national parks, forests, state lands, and beaches that are currently closed to public access. I feel an overwhelming longing to get to a trail I love or camp along a river. The draw to those places and being outside, especially during this time of stress, is intense.
Maybe that urge to access what is closed is also driven by the Forest Service project that I’m currently reading and evaluating during the “public comment period,” which is required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA provides all of us the opportunity to speak our mind about what happens on public lands. The key components of this “restoration” project that I’m most focused on are related to improving the streams, stream habitat, and overall watershed condition. And the component that has the biggest impact is the forest road system—those paved or dirt or gravel roads that deliver us to trailheads, campgrounds, and swimming holes—which also harms wildlife and waterways. This particular project is proposing to “close” or decommission 30% of the current road system.
That feels like a lot. Closure has finality to it. Synonyms include: end, conclusion, finish, shutting. But, I read more. Apparently, 130 of the 223 miles of roads in this forest are technically already closed, either because the roads are falling apart, overgrown with vegetation, or simply aren’t used. With too many roads and too little money, the Forest Service loses miles and miles just because they degrade. Decommissioning, which means reclaiming the road and turning it back to a more natural state, is often proposed for roads that are mostly already closed, overgrown, and/or undriveable.
The antonym of closure is opening. I see that happening here. With every mile that is decommissioned, we get habitat for black bears, Pacific fisher, or salmon stitched back together—reconnected. For every truckload of sediment that is prevented from entering a stream, we get clear water that is cleaner for drinking water suppliers. For every dispersed camping site moved, we get less wildfire, since in this forest, 90% of the fires have been human-caused at dispersed campsites along roadways. And for every dollar not spent on band-aiding a piece of road that keeps failing, we can spend that dollar on a road that most people use frequently.
I understand that some people consider road decommissioning by the Forest Service a “loss of access.” I am relating to this perception now as I wrestle with my own perceived loss of access to my local wild places. But those places are still there and maybe having a chance to rejuvenate a little, while I’m just trying to shift my focus simply on the wild by my house. Perhaps, too, as we emerge from “staying at home” and open up to the outdoors again, we can think of this proposed project as a renewed opening for the people and wildlife that access this corner of the forest.
Healthy humans and healthy watersheds have a synergy. Let’s consider shedding what doesn’t serve us and working towards what does.
Fifty years ago, a group of visionaries created an event to honor, celebrate and protect the earth. The original founders of Earth Day were inspired by an understanding that Earth and its life support systems were increasingly vulnerable. They also understood a profound and simple truth—if the Earth suffers, then humanity suffers too.
If Earth and its natural systems are to thrive in the next 50 years, we need a deep recommitment to the bold vision that inspired the first Earth Day. Simply put, it’s time for action and we need Guardians like you to step up and help be a catalyst for the type of bold changes needed to address systemic problems, like the nature crisis and climate crises.
First, if you haven’t already, sign our Earth Day Pledge and make sure to share it with your friends and family.
Next, help us take over social media for Earth Week! To do that, we’ve assembled ready-to-go images for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you’re short on time, we’ve even put together some sample Facebook posts and Instagram hashtags for you. We’ve created something extra special for people on Twitter: A compelling series of 15 tweets. We’d be especially grateful if you could send them all out!
Finally, you can find WildEarth Guardians on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @WildEarthGuardians, so make sure to tag us!
All Earth Day images can be downloaded from this folder. They’re already sized for Facebook/Instagram or Twitter. You can also click on each image below and get a full-size image for use on social media.
Start your very own Twitter Storm by sending out the following 15 tweets. We’ve made it simple: Just grab and post! Please note: If an image isn’t associated with the suggested tweet (Example: Suggested Tweet #1) an image will automatically propagate when you post the entire tweet.
Suggested Tweet #1
The original founders of #EarthDay were inspired by an understanding that Earth and its life support systems were increasingly vulnerable. They also understood a profound and simple truth—if the Earth suffers, then humanity suffers too. https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/earth-day-2020-a-vision-for-the-next-50-years/
Suggested Tweet #2
Sign the Earth Day Pledge: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge @wildearthguard
Suggested Tweet #3
Thanks to the catalyzing effect of the original #EarthDay vision—as well as a deep and wide progressive social and political movement—a whole suite of environmental safety nets now exist to protect nature, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/americas-bedrock-environmental-laws-a-conversation-with-john-horning/
Suggested Tweet #4
This #EarthDay is a time to reject dualities that seek to deny our interdependence and embrace our shared destiny—planet and people have one health. From this stems our belief that the rights of nature and the rights of people are inextricably intertwined. https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/earth-day-2020-a-vision-for-the-next-50-years/
Suggested Tweet #5
Help spread the word about #EarthDay2020! Check out our Earth Day social media tool kit for a series of ready-to-go tweets, posts, and images. Let’s be loud and be proud this #EarthDay! @wildearthguard https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayToolkit
Suggested Tweet #6
There has never been a better time to chart a new course towards a restorative and regenerative future. Take the #EarthDay Pledge: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge @wildearthguard
Suggested Tweet #7
Extractive industries that mine, drill, log, and graze on #publiclands are fueling the climate crisis and the nature crisis. We must equitably retire extractive industries on public lands. Take action: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge #EarthDay
Suggested Tweet #8
Living rivers are vital to the diversity of life on earth. To ensure the future health of rivers and the species that depend on them, we must revive the pulse of great waterways and expose the historic injustice to rivers. Take the pledge: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge #EarthDay
Suggested Tweet #9
Native #wildlife, especially carnivores, are suffering under the multiple and intensifying threats of habitat destruction, climate disruption and questionable hunting and trapping practices. We must nurture an ethic of compassionate co-existence: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge #EarthDay
Suggested Tweet #10
Public lands in the American West are home to some of the last remnants of wild, yet still unprotected, landscapes in our nation. There are potentially up to 40 million acres of #publiclands that would be eligible for permanent protection. ACT: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge #EarthDay
Suggested Tweet #11
Times like these show the importance of safety nets. We must secure and strengthen environmental safety nets like the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act to meet the challenges ahead. Sign the pledge: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge #EarthDay
Suggested Tweet #12
WildEarth Guardians’ #EarthDay vision calls for leadership at all levels of society. We need leaders from all political spectrums to shoulder the responsibility of creating and embrace the vision of a new, more nurturant social contract with citizens. https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/earth-day-2020-a-vision-for-the-next-50-years/
Suggested Tweet #13
Living rivers and #cleanwater are vital to all life. Flowing, healthy rivers nourish communities, connect ecosystems, and provide corridors and habitat for fish and wildlife. Sign the pledge to protect and defend #livingrivers: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge #EarthDay
Suggested Tweet #14
We must deepen our commitment to greater equity and inclusion in our human communities to ensure that people are treated with compassion and afforded the dignity that all people deserve. #EarthDay https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/earth-day-2020-a-vision-for-the-next-50-years/
Suggested Tweet #15
The beauty, resiliency, and dynamism of Earth can still inspire a sense of awe and wonder in each of us. If we re-commit, with a greater sense of urgency, to the founding vision of #EarthDay, we can ensure future generations will experience the beauty too. https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge
Suggested Facebook Posts
Suggested Facebook Post #1
The original founders of Earth Day were inspired by an understanding that Earth and its life support systems were increasingly vulnerable. They also understood a profound and simple truth—if the Earth suffers, then humanity suffers too.
As we commemorate this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we do so with a somber reckoning that we have not heeded planetary health warnings early or well enough. Therefore, these times require ever more bold actions to realign our commitment to Earth and its natural systems and our mutual well-being.
Here’s what guardians like you can do today to help us collectively achieve this vision.
Suggested Facebook Post #2
If Earth and its natural systems are to thrive in the next 50 years, we need a deep recommitment to the bold vision that inspired the first Earth Day. It is a time for action. It is time to reweave the threads of the environmental, public health, and economic safety nets, which ensure that the public welfare and the common good are each protected.
Take the Pledge: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge
Suggested Facebook Post #3
Happy Earth Day…Now get to work for the Earth!
Our Earth Day social media tool kit is a one-stop-shop of ready-to-go tweets, posts, and images.
Instagram Hashtags and Link for Bio
Put this link to the Earth Day Pledge in your bio: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge
Hashtags: Use one, or use them all!
#EarthDay #EarthDay2020 #EarthDayEveryDay #ClimateAction #StopExtinction #PublicLands #Wildlife #EndTheWarOnWildlife #LivingRivers #KeepItInTheGround #ProtectWhatYouLove #SaveTheEarth #SaveThePlanet #ProtectOurPlanet #ActOnClimate #EarthWeek #WaterIsLife #CleanWater #CleanAir #Biodiversity #Coexistence #ProtectNature #SaveNature #ProtectWildlife #OneEarth #Together #EndangeredSpecies
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.
I love beavers. Ever since I was a kid and watched them slap their tails defiantly, and loudly, to warn their clan of the threatening presence of large animals, I’ve thought beavers were worthy of my admiration. Then I realized they build dams too! As an aspiring dam builder myself, I figured beavers had more than a few things to teach me.
In fact, when the question of what is my favorite spirit animal arises, my response is almost always: beavers. They bring joy and gusto to their daily work and are quite content in mud and water. What’s not to admire?
So, when the opportunity came up in late September to be a beaver for a day with WildEarth Guardians’ restoration crew, I jumped at it—especially since I could bring along my energetic, six-year-old twin boys.
But what it exactly means to be a beaver for a day I did not know. I could only imagine that flowing water, willows, and mud had to be essential ingredients.
What I did know was that we were supposed to convene on the banks of San Antonio Creek—a meandering stream that sits at the bottom of a cleft in the volcanic uplift that is the Jemez Mountains. So, it was there that Wiley, Finn, and I found ourselves on a recent Saturday morning with another thirty souls who, I sensed, were likewise wondering whether they, too, could be adequate beavers for a day.
There, WildEarth Guardians’ restoration director, Reid Whittlesey, laid out our task. Standing next to a large pile of willows and rocks, he explained that our goal was to weave willow, and place rocks and mud. If we did it well, as our dam rose so, too, would the water.
The job of building these beaver dam analogues, or BDAs as they are known, was made easier by the placement of two dozen wooden posts that had been driven into the ground in a cross-crossed pattern across the stream. These posts, placed days earlier by Reid and his crew, provided the necessary foundation for each dam to rise.
And so a beaver clan, a crew of five or six people, was deployed to each of the six dam sites. For my boys—as it seemed for everyone—the excitement of the reality of dam-building overrode the hesitation that often comes with trying something new. In partnership with the other adults, the boys wove the willow back and forth between the poles and watched as others did the same.
Without it really being emphasized we had already embodied one of the critical qualities of beavers: collaboration amongst a family unit to accomplish a grand task.
And steadily each of the dams rose. Not on the scale of a New York City skyscraper, but rather like a humble, sod hut that once housed pioneers on the Great Plains. First one foot, then two feet and, in some cases, three or even four feet of willow, mud, sedge, and stone. Each dam was a unique creation and an imperfectly perfect monument—not to our ability to mimic the wisdom of beavers, but rather to our deep human yearning to heal damaged lands.
Of course, every story of healing and restoring the land and its grace, its beauty, and its dignity is also a story of trauma. For healing would not be necessary if there were no trauma. And this piece of the Santa Fe National Forest, this creek, has been deeply and repeatedly traumatized. Not by some massive and obvious threat, but rather by the insidious and ubiquitous presence of cattle grazing in otherwise arid landscapes.
Absent cows, there would be willows along the stream. And almost everywhere there are willows, beavers thrive. And where beavers thrive there is ecological dynamism, and the land sings, with the literal songs of flycatchers and frogs and with the slithering of snakes and the pattering of shrews and mice. And in the stream itself, native trout grow fatter and more abundant in the cooler, deeper waters that beaver dams create.
Here in New Mexico, there is a long list of endangered species that have been imperiled in the absence of beavers and that would benefit from their return. The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, the Southwest willow flycatcher are just a few.
Sadly, the need for BDAs and the return of beavers is not limited to San Antonio Creek. In 2016 ecologists found that beaver occupied fewer than 1% of potential stream habitats in New Mexico. They found the problem even worse on national forests in northern New Mexico, concluding “beaver dams were exceptionally rare on public lands managed for cattle grazing.” (Small et. al 2016, Livestock grazing limits beaver restoration in northern New Mexico, Restoration Ecology.)
But this story of the beaver apocalypse is not unique to New Mexico, nor even to the American West. Beavers have been extirpated from literally tens of thousands of miles of streams and small rivers—the victims of both trapping and habitat degradation. Those ecosystems suffer greatly in their absence.
Our hope, of course, is that beavers will return to San Antonio Creek and make these dams their own. But when and if they do there is yet another challenge they will face: the harsh, deadly reality of a body-crushing trap. On nearly all of New Mexico public lands, trapping is allowed. So as soon as beavers return to the San Antonio Creek, a weekend trapper could eliminate every last one in the entire watershed.
All of these unfortunate realities for beavers reflect antiquated policy dictated by outdated beliefs—that beavers are pests and nuisance animals that should be eliminated any time someone complains. Incredibly, the last time the state of New Mexico wildlife agency did a beaver inventory was in 1956, the year before the television show “Leave it to Beaver” debuted.
Sadly, we can’t just leave it to beavers anymore. And the work of building beaver dam analogues reflects that reality. If we are to heal our streams and make our water supplies more resilient in the face of an ever-warming planet, we need to get busy. We must create and pass new state and federal policies and practices that restore beavers and beaver habitat to every single mile of streams and rivers on national forests, national parks, and all our public lands.
All the beaver clichés aside, we are losing time, losing species, and losing our precious water supplies every day of our collective inaction. I feel urgency not only for the creatures, large and small, whose intrinsic right to exist is being trampled on, but also for my boys and their deep yearnings to see frogs, snakes, and jumping mice animate the wild places they grow up in.
Toward the end of our time as beavers, my boys and I retreated to our nearby campsite where we shared stories of our days’ feats around the fire. That night, we drifted off to sleep to the hooting calls of a pair of Mexican spotted owls nested in the remnant ancient fir and pine forest that cover the valley walls.
The next morning after packing up, we were about to get in the car when my boys proclaimed that we could not leave without one more inspection of “our” beaver dam. Much to their satisfaction, not only was the dam still intact, but the water level had risen noticeably since the previous afternoon. As their energy lingered, the boys hummed, gently sang, and chattered to themselves and to each other in contemplative satisfaction with their work. One walked back and forth across the dam while the other waded in and out of the now waist-deep water. Without further words, we headed back up stream and up the hill to our car. But before moving on, one of my boys said, “Dad, we need to come back and build more beaver dams!”
“Yes, we do,” I said. “Yes, we do.”
Additional photos from Guardians’ Restoration Director, Reid Whittlesey, below.