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As Prop 114’s promise of paws on the ground draws closer, we checked in with residents all over Colorado to see how they were feeling about having wolves in the wilds near where they live. It was evident from our conversations they are excited about the return of wolves.

When asked about what seeing a wolf in Colorado would mean to them, one resident from Salida expressed, “I’ve cherished every wolf sighting I’ve ever had, and seeing one in Colorado would be fantastic.” Another resident from Durango added that “Having wolves in Colorado would be amazing. Even just to hear them howl. It’s an experience like no other.”

The return of wolves to the state will not only give residents an amazing new wildlife viewing opportunity, but wolves will benefit the entire ecosystem. As one resident said, “They’re wonderful, majestic animals in their own right. There’s a profound sense of righting an ecological wrong when wolves return to an area they’ve historically inhabited.”

And the residents we spoke with agree that management of the species should first and foremost focus on preventative, non-lethal solutions. A Salida resident explained that “we have so many great tools for preventing conflict before it occurs—from fladry to noisemakers, and range riders…there are just so many great tried and true techniques for preventing conflict.” Non-lethal methods are also shown to be more effective in managing wolf-livestock conflicts, while killing wolves can do more harm than good, actually increasing instances of conflict instead of reducing them.

When it comes to a potential recreational wolf-hunt, residents are adamant one should never be permitted. Rocky Smith, from Denver, offered, “There’s no reason to hunt wolves. We’re bringing them back, there’s no reason to kill them.” Adding to that, Tom Zieber from Gunnison said he doesn’t believe we need recreational wolf killing or hunting saying, “It’s just really killing for the sake of killing.”

As for what they’d like to see happen for wolves in Colorado, Hailey Hawkins from Durango, conveyed that she “would like to see wolves be free, and go wherever they want, and settle wherever they want. To not be restricted to certain parts of the state.”  She wants them “to have the freedom to go where they want without the invisible borders that they can’t see or adhere to, that we arbitrarily create.” And others agree with Hailey. Tom’s opinion is that “Wolves should be allowed wherever in the state that there is suitable habitat and prey base, not just the Western Slope.”

Rocky wants fellow residents to know that “wolves belong here and they’re an important part of the ecosystem, and we need to learn to live with them.” Hailey adds that residents should know that “this is something that has already been done before and we can do it here. You can still go camping, you can still go hiking, and in fact, your experience will be even more enriched with wolves being there.”

After speaking with residents from all over the state, there is a profound sense of hope and excitement for the return of wolves. In a state where wild places bring a lot of value to a lot of people, wolves are just another tremendous addition to a robust ecosystem. It’s Tom Zieber’s hope that as the wolf population is restored to the state, having respect for wolves will bring about respect for all our other native species, and springboard a change that better exemplifies the humane treatment of all wildlife.

For more information, and to see what actions you can take to make Colorado wolf reintroduction a success, check out this Colorado wolf resource page.

Below are photos of various landscapes in Colorado that are near our interviewees’ locations. After the photos, you’ll see a map from our Colorado Wolf Restoration Plan, which identifies 12 proposed wolf habitat zones. The letters on that map correspond with the letters provided in each photo caption.

Hermosa Creek Wilderness, San Juan National Forest (“K” on map below). Photo by John Sowell.

 

Holy Cross and Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness areas, White River National Forest (“E” on map below). Photo by Frank Kovalchek.

 

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, White River and Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests (“F” on map below). Photo by Sarowen.

 

West Elk Wilderness, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests (“H” on map below). Photo by John Sowell.

 

West Elk Wilderness, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests (“H” on map below). Photo by John Sowell.

 

The large blue-green tracts represent suitable wolf habitat in zones 450 km2 and larger. The 12 proposed wolf habitat zones, along with the location of the North Park pack (“NP”) are marked. Note that the Southern Ute Reservation in SW Colorado qualifies as suitable wolf habitat. We have removed the area from consideration for reintroductions because, as a sovereign nation, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe has expressed opposition to having wolves reintroduced there.

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Guardians has a $50,000 matching gift challenge to help to fund our legal work. Donate today to support Samantha and our legal team—and your donation will be DOUBLED!

To her fellow Guardians, she’s known as “Double Doctor Sam” (holder of two doctoral degrees in anthropology and law), avid Jazzercise instructor (she celebrated her 22nd anniversary in June), world traveler, and legal whiz.

But to the coal and oil and gas industries, she’s indefatigable and imperturbable, battering industry with suit after suit until Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda crumbles. Energized by her work to push the envelope—and the law—for the climate and our natural world, Guardians legal director Samantha Ruscavage-Barz is an indomitable force for nature.

Samantha at Tintagel Castle, set high on the rugged North Cornwall coast.

Digging deep
Born in a blighted Pennsylvania coal town, Ruscavage-Barz first fell in love with the Southwest through her professor’s slides in an “Archaeology of the Southwest” class at Penn State. She spent the next 17 years doing archaeology in the field. After earning her PhD at the University of Washington, she arrived in New Mexico to further her career.

Some of those years were exhilarating—like the two she spent painstakingly excavating several rooms in a 16th-century Pueblo site, Pueblo Blanco, in New Mexico’s Galisteo Basin. For the most part, however, Ruscavage-Barz conducted archaeological surveys for government development projects ranging from road-building to coal mining.

She was working at the New Mexico State Highway Department in the curiously titled position of “Highway Environmentalist” when fate intervened. Fittingly for this litigator-to-be, it came in the form of a lawsuit.

Ruscavage-Barz was overseeing the analyses of impacts to natural and cultural resources for a highway expansion project in southern New Mexico when a neighborhood group sued the Highway Department and Federal Highway Administration over the project, arguing that their analyses did not adequately capture the historic character of the farming communities, acequias, and houses that would be damaged for the sake of two extra lanes.

The suit didn’t faze the Highway Department, but it did rattle Ruscavage-Barz.

“The people living in the path of the highway expansion voiced concern that the road was going to completely change the character of their communities. The Highway Department just wanted to bulldoze past their concerns and dismiss them,” she said.

As she witnessed the communities’ lawyers fight for their right to exist, she also found herself impressed with the power of the law.

Lawyers, she realized, “give people and nature—who don’t normally have a voice in project planning—a seat at the table as decision-makers.”

She spoke to the lawyers and investigated the laws intended to protect the environment and cultural resources, unearthing a system of natural and cultural protections that development agencies were prepared to ignore unless they were held accountable by conservation-minded lawyers.

“Among development agencies, the focus is on consumption of natural resources and their income-generating potential,” she said. “I saw the need for voices to protect natural resources for their own sake.”

Determined to give voice to the voiceless, she quit her job at the Highway Department and enrolled at the University of New Mexico School of Law.

Samantha at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico.

Learning to lose
Ruscavage-Barz became WildEarth Guardians’ climate and energy staff attorney in 2010. Rather than a timeline of legal triumph, her next five years at the organization would be a lesson in loss.

It wasn’t until 2015 that she won her first case, which derailed coal mining expansion schemes in Colorado, Montana, and New Mexico.

She admits that half a decade of losing was “disheartening,” but also takes pride in her—and Guardians’—persistence, likening it to the fight for equality during the Civil Rights era. Brown v. Board of Education was by no means the first case the NAACP filed against segregation in public schools, but it was the one that stuck, and the one that shattered the status quo forever—just as one of WildEarth Guardians’ coal mining cases invoking the need to consider climate finally set the stage for safeguarding our climate.

The fact that Guardians encouraged her to continue to bring cutting-edge cases over those five years, even if that often meant losing, “kept me going,” Ruscavage-Barz said.

Her persistence has paid off in the years since that first win. One by one, judges are siding with Guardians and holding the government accountable to our climate and our planet—resulting in billions of tons of coal kept in the ground, reconsideration of decisions to sell nearly four million acres of oil and gas leases in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Montana, and New Mexico, and plans to drill more than 4,000 fracking wells in Greater Chaco curtailed.

No longer does Ruscavage-Barz excavate the remnants of ancient civilizations. Instead her job now involves construction—painstakingly assembling proactive protections for the Wild, communities, and the environment from the ground up, each successive case building on its predecessor until robust environmental protections and government accountability emerge from the detritus of climate denial, coal mines, and fracking pads.

WildEarth Guardians’ rock solid legal director “Double Doctor Sam” exploring Avebury Henge in southwest England.

12 years on
Ruscavage-Barz has been a Guardian for nearly a third of the organization’s existence. But even as Guardians expands, she notes, the legal strategies that have defined it over the past 33 years continue to be effective in protecting our environment and holding government accountable.

“Guardians’ legal work has always been prudent, but pioneering,” she said. “We don’t bring litigation without thinking it through. But at the same time, we don’t hesitate to go where no one has gone before.”

As threats to our wild places, wildlife, and climate grow ever more perilous, and as courts increasingly heed Guardians’ calls for change, one thing remains plain: we’re lucky to have Ruscavage-Barz in our corner.

Guardians has a $50,000 matching gift challenge to help to fund our legal work. Donate today to support Samantha and our legal team—and your donation will be DOUBLED!


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Since the passage of Proposition 114, Coloradans have been eagerly awaiting the return of wolves to the state. However, the formal process led by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has minimized meaningful public input, and instead, uplifted the voices of ranchers, outfitters, trappers, and hunters over all others. This has unfolded in reports and recommendations by the Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) and Technical Working Group (TWG) that are likely to limit the possibilities of wolves on the Colorado landscape.

Discussions in the SAG, in particular, have focused on the negative impacts of wolves, while ignoring the multitude of positive ones. The lack of transparency with the prohibition of video and audio recordings and no live streaming of meetings, severely limits the ability of the Colorado public to attend and participate in these meetings. This process is heading in a direction that raises doubts about the success of the wolf reintroduction, and puts the letter and spirit of Proposition 114 behind the concerns of special interest groups.

WildEarth Guardians has not, and will not, sit idle while the voices of the majority of Coloradans who voted for wolves to return to the state are lost to the process. Instead, Guardians has put forth an alternative plan for the CPW Commission to consider—a pro-wolf plan. Our “Colorado Wolf Restoration Plan” is ecologically focused, emphasizing the return of healthy and sustainable populations of wolves to the landscape.

Our plan ensures that wolves are restored throughout suitable habitat in western Colorado, tracks with the best available science, requires proactive non-lethal coexistence strategies, explains why Mexican gray wolves belong in the southern mountains of the state, and is clear that recreational wolf hunting should NEVER happen in Colorado. These are the elements that represent the intent of Proposition 114 and the millions of Coloradans who voted for it.

It is our hope at Guardians that the CPW Commission takes the recommendations from our Colorado Wolf Restoration Plan and implements a thoughtful, compassionate, and science based approach to the Colorado wolf reintroduction. For more information, and to see what actions you can take to make Colorado wolf reintroduction a success, check out this Colorado wolf resource page.

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Gray wolves in Montana are—once again—in the crosshairs of the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission. Hunters, trappers, and the unabashedly anti-wolf governor and legislature in Montana are gearing up for another wolf hunting and trapping season with the goal of drastically reducing the state’s still-recovering wolf population.

Under the current and proposed season regulations for 2022-23, a single person can kill up to 20 wolves and use bait, night vision scopes, artificial lights, and thermal imaging—truly dispelling any notion of ethical or “fair chase” hunting.

The heinously liberalized gray wolf hunting and trapping allowances not only endanger the gray wolf population, but also federally threatened species including grizzly bears and Canada lynx, as well as family pets and Montanans and visitors who enjoy recreating outdoors. Simply put, the Commission will put both wildlife and the public at risk if it continues this approach.

On August 25, the Commission will decide on the 2022-23 wolf hunting and trapping regulations. Notably, if adopted as proposed, 460 wolves—close to half of the state’s population—must be slaughtered before the Commission will even consider stopping the hunt. The unsatiable bloodlust of the anti-wolf minority in the northern Rockies states, including Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, continues to amplify the need for the federal government to take action—now—to protect these wolves. Until it does, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming will continue the unabated slaughter until there are no wolves left.

Make your opposition to liberalized wolf hunting and trapping in Montana known by providing written comments by 5 pm on July 21 under the “trapping and wolf seasons” tab for the Commission to consider on August 25.

Here are some important talking points, but be sure to personalize your comment for maximum effectiveness:

  • Gray wolf management should be cautious and science-based, not political.
  • The quota for wolf kills in the proposed WMU 313, if adopted, should be zero or the minimum number of wolves—not 10.
  • The model used to estimate the statewide wolf population is full of compounding errors, meaning the actual size of the state’s wolf population is unknown.
  • Increased wolf trapping imperils federally threatened grizzly bears and Canada lynx, as well as family pets and outdoor recreationists.
  • Snares are cruel and inherently indiscriminate.

After you submit your own comments, please share this action alert with your friends and neighbors in Montana and encourage them to raise their voice in defense of the gray wolf.

P.S. If you don’t have time to write your own original comments, please sign our petition to defend wolves in Montana.

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Guardians has a $50,000 matching gift challenge to help to fund our legal work. Donate today to support Jennifer and our legal team—and your donation will be DOUBLED!

Few wolves have captured the hearts of the public like “Journey,” who in 2011 traveled more than 1,000 miles to become the first wild wolf to set foot in California in over a century. But what’s not public knowledge is that Journey’s journey nearly ended before it began, with a bullet from a federal wildlife-killer’s gun—and that it was WildEarth Guardians Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Schwartz who helped spare him and his siblings from slaughter.

As Staff Attorney and Program Director at the Hells Canyon Preservation Council in eastern Oregon, Schwartz had a front-row seat for the conflict between the state’s nascent Imnaha Pack and the ranchers operating in the area’s heavily grazed national forests. Nevertheless, she was aghast when the state authorized the execution of two members of the pack, absent any environmental analysis—even though there were as few as 13 wolves in the entire state at the time. She argued an emergency motion in federal court that halted the kill order, securing Journey’s place in wolf lore and marking the first of her many victories for wildlife to come.

Hearing the Call of the Wild

Schwartz’s own journey to an environmental litigation career began inauspiciously in her birthplace of Los Angeles. Despite growing up in an urban environment, she developed a deep passion for wildlife, particularly wolves, at an early age. A move to the then-undeveloped outskirts of Tucson, Arizona for her mother’s work with American Airlines brought Schwartz’s first close encounters with the Wild outside her front door. As an L.A. transplant, she marveled at tarantulas emerging after monsoons, rattlesnakes sunning on roads, and squadrons of javelinas cruising through the Canyon del Oro wash she frequented with her dogs. As her move coincided with the early 90s southwest development boom, she also witnessed a lot of desert habitat bulldozed for strip malls and subdivisions.

These experiences culminated in her first nonprofit conservation gig: seventeen and a senior in high school, she joined the canvassing crew for the Center for Biological Diversity (just a small, regional organization at the time).

“Suddenly I was a political activist, going to protests and helping organize demonstrations for stopping logging on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and building support for Mexican wolf and jaguar recovery in the southwest,” she says. She even tagged along to one of the first releases of Mexican gray wolves on the border of Arizona and New Mexico in 1998.

At the Center, Schwartz discovered that environmental law could be a legitimate career path. So after earning a B.A. in politics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, she was off to Portland, Ore., to earn her J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School.

Jennifer surveys the damage to Joshua trees from the Dome Fire in the Mojave National Preserve during a field trip with a LA Times reporter.

Speaking for the Trees

Schwartz left her job at the Hells Canyon Preservation Council in 2012 to have her son. For a time, she was both a parent and a solo practitioner, filing timber sales litigation to end logging in old-growth forests throughout the Pacific Northwest. The work was rewarding, but grueling, so she jumped at the chance to join Guardians in 2019 and litigate on behalf of our Wildlife Program.

Schwartz returned to her desert roots for her first case at Guardians: advocating for the desert Southwest’s iconic Joshua trees.

In 2015, Guardians petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list both the western and eastern species of Joshua tree as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, citing climate change’s devastating effects on the species. The Service denied the petition, prompting a lawsuit from Guardians.

As she dug into the case, Schwartz “quickly realized there’s a whole body of climate science the Service just summarily dismissed, including five peer-reviewed, published models, all showing that by the end of this century, Joshua trees would lose up to 90 percent of their current habitat.”

Guardians won the suit on all counts by proving that the Service had ignored this science when it refused to list the Joshua tree. As a result, the Service now has to grapple with the dire forecasts of these studies and issue a new listing decision for the tree this coming January—offering the beleaguered species a much-needed shot at survival in the decades to come.

Championing Coexistence for Native Carnivores

Outside of her Joshua tree litigation, Schwartz has been hard at work spotlighting the atrocities of the secretive federal wildlife-killing program, Wildlife Services. The program indiscriminately slaughters millions of native wildlife each year, largely at the behest of livestock producers, and “justifies” the extermination with spurious, archaic science. In states like Montana and New Mexico, Schwartz and Guardians have dragged Wildlife Services’ activities into the light and before the courts; as a result, the program has agreed to curtail or end some of its most heinous killing methods, from body-gripping traps to cyanide bombs, and to cease “predator control” activities on specially designated public lands.

Yet these wins, though impressive, are only temporary, lasting as long as Wildlife Services takes to prepare new environmental analyses. Schwartz has therefore opted to take a different tack in her more recent litigation, broadening her focus to also address the role of federal land managers—mainly the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management—in responsibly managing the livestock grazing across federal lands that are prime habitat for native carnivores.

It was Schwartz’s beloved wolves who inspired this strategic shift—in this case, 31 wolves massacred in response to cattle depredations on the heavily grazed Colville National Forest in the state of Washington. The state circumvented Guardians’ 2015 court victory stopping Wildlife Services from killing wolves in Washington by instead having their own state wildlife agency step in. So Schwartz “suggested we focus our litigation on directly addressing the Forest Service’s mismanagement of livestock grazing on national forests, since that’s the primary driver of wolf mortality in Washington.”

In a similar vein, Schwartz filed another case this past December that targets federal agencies’ mismanagement of livestock grazing practices in Nevada—and their eagerness to permit killing sprees of native wildlife across the state, including on more than 6.2 million acres of Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas.

She envisions a future where, instead of condemning wolves simply trying to live their lives, federal land managers require grazing permittees to adopt common-sense, science-backed practices shown to effectively reduce the risk of wildlife-livestock conflicts, such as employing range riders; keeping herds bunched up in open, defensible spaces; avoiding turning out of vulnerable young lambs and calves; and keeping livestock away from wolves’ denning areas.

“Native wildlife put the ‘Wild’ in Wilderness. Killing them on the behalf of commercial livestock producers just doesn’t jibe with that,” she says.

Jennifer with a gray wolf at “Predators Of The Heart” Animal Sanctuary in Anacortes, WA.

Fighting for the Future

Three years into her time at Guardians, Schwartz’s enthusiasm shows no signs of waning. She lights up when she describes her latest case, safeguarding and recovering the critically endangered black-footed ferret.

Her son, now nine, is always willing to lend an eager ear. Schwartz, in turn, is always “thinking about his generation, how to ensure a biologically rich, diverse world for them to enjoy,” she says. “Having a child makes me fight harder for that future.”

If her past achievements are any indication, we—and the Wild—can expect fine things from that fight.

Guardians has a $50,000 matching gift challenge to help to fund our legal work. Donate today to support Jennifer and our legal team—and your donation will be DOUBLED!

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Like I’ve said before, we make a great team.

WildEarth Guardians and our allies have just secured another groundbreaking legal settlement that will aid the recovery of Canada lynx—iconic wild cats endangered by climate change and habitat fragmentation.

As a result of relentless pressure by Guardians, our allies, and supporters like you, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finally agreed to evaluate the southern Rockies for inclusion as lynx critical habitat.

This step in the right direction follows on the heels of the agency abandoning plans to remove Endangered Species Act protections for the struggling snow cat in the contiguous U.S.

Many of you played a critical role in these successful outcomes! Thousands of you have heeded our calls to action and repeatedly urged the Fish and Wildlife Service to keep Canada lynx protected and prepare a science-based recovery plan for these threatened wild cats, which finally puts them on a path toward full recovery across their range.

We are also extremely grateful for our lawsuit partners in this latest settlement victory: Wilderness Workshop and Western Environmental Law Center.

This is just another example of how working together—relentlessly—gets results.

Together, we are a force for nature. And your generous support will continue propelling our endangered species defense work forward.

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On April 1, 2022 Roxy’s Law—a ban on trapping on New Mexico public lands more than a decade in the making—goes into effect after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed it last year. Nearly 32 million acres of public lands, including state-owned parcels, national forests, and Bureau of Land Management holdings will be free not only of cruel leghold traps, which can amputate and maim, but also from strangulation snares, body-crushing traps, and deadly poisons like sodium cyanide bombs. From the beautiful Latir Peak Wilderness to the incredible Florida Mountains, vast amounts of New Mexico will be safer for people, pups, and wildlife alike.

Along with Roxy’s Law, New Mexico has recently taken other meaningful steps toward protecting wildlife. In 2019, the state banned gruesome coyote-killing contests, events that reward indiscriminate and senseless massacres. Currently, the state is rolling out its plan for projects to protect wildlife from vehicle collisions along heavily used movement and migration corridors.

These are signs of a new era across the Land of Enchantment. An era in which coexistence is the norm, exploitation and cruelty are waning, and native foxes, bobcats, beavers, badgers, and wolves are revered for their ecological roles and honored for their intrinsic value, not persecuted as inconveniences. We are leaving behind nearly two hundred years of primarily viewing wildlife as merely something to slaughter and sell.

Still, New Mexico isn’t yet the beacon of wildlife management that it should be:

  • A memorial urging the federal government to tackle the biodiversity crisis died without a vote on the state Senate floor last month.
  • Our Game Commission has been a merry-go-round as the governor appoints and fires commissioners at her whim. Yet she has let a year elapse since the tragic passing of David Soules without appointing anyone to the conservation position on the commission. Without stability on the commission, it’s unclear where needed leadership will come from.
  • The state is still on record opposing Mexican wolf restoration in the Southern Rockies, where lobos belong and where scientists say they need to live in order to fully recover.

Congress seems poised to pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (co-sponsored by New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich), which could provide funding to states to protect nongame wildlife. But our wildlife agency doesn’t even have the authority to manage or protect many species, including the Gunnison’s prairie dog, the Rio Grande sucker, and 23 of New Mexico’s 26 bat species, just to name a few. And they don’t want that responsibility; they want to continue to focus on the fraction of animals that are pursued and killed by sportsmen.

RAWA could be the inflection point New Mexico needs. Bold leadership is required to modernize the Department of Game and Fish. So, let’s remember there’s a lot of work still to do and progress to be made:

  • We need a comprehensive state wildlife agency more invested in protecting all wildlife, not focused only on game species like elk and nonnative rainbow trout.
  • We need a wildlife agency that sees all New Mexicans as stakeholders, not one that caters only to the minority of New Mexicans, who, like me, buy hunting and fishing licenses.
  • We need a wildlife agency with the authority, will, and revenue to manage and protect the many wildlife species in our state.

Roxy’s Law alone is worth celebrating, of course. But it also represents a critical marker on New Mexico’s path to reimagining how we perceive and live with the wildlife that makes this place special. Let’s take the next step and push for a state wildlife agency that serves all the people and wildlife of New Mexico.

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Guardians and the California Wilderness Coalition have intervened in a lawsuit brought by snowmobiling interests that are challenging the Forest Service’s decision to designate over-snow vehicle (OSV) trails and use areas on the Stanislaus National Forest in California’s Sierra Nevada.

We intervened in the lawsuit because the Forest Service hasn’t properly considered the impacts snowmobiling will have on an isolated remnant population of 18 to 39 Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator), which live within the Stanislaus National Forest in the vicinity of Sonora Pass (elevation 9628’).

Despite its name, the Sierra Nevada red fox can have black, gray or tawny fur (the gray fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus, is a separate species). Its thick, deep winter coat, longer hind feet, and small toe pads completely covered in winter by dense fur make it well-adapted to the cold and deep snows of Sierra Nevada winters. It’s also smaller than the other nine North American subspecies of red fox—males average about 9.5 lbs and females about 7.5 lbs. The smaller stature could be another adaptation that allows it to travel better atop the snow, or it might simply result from the smaller amount of available prey in the subalpine habitat and high-elevation conifer woodlands in which the fox is found. Rodents and snowshoe hare are the fox’s primary food source. With prey limited at this elevation, so is the fox’s population density: 1 fox per 10 square miles.

Because the Sierra Nevada red fox is solitary, nocturnal and lives at in inhospitable elevation, confirmed sightings are extremely rare. As far back as the 1950s, there were only about two confirmed sightings per year. From 1991 until 2010 there were no confirmed sightings, leading some biologists to believe the fox had gone extinct. In 2015, a Sierra Nevada red fox was seen in Yosemite National Park for the first time in almost a century. With so few sightings, recent studies of the fox have relied on scat and hair samples to estimate its population and range, and much of its presumed behavior is taken from other subspecies.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes the isolated population around Sonora Pass as the Sierra Nevada Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the Sierra Nevada red fox, and in August of 2021 designated the DPS as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The ESA provides protection to imperiled species, but also extends protections to subspecies and “distinct population segments”—a population or group of populations that are both discrete from other populations and significant to the species as a whole.  The Sonora Pass population is one of only two populations known to exist, and the only population to still inhabit its historical range in the Sierra Nevada mountains. These last few foxes are genetically distinct from another larger DPS found in the southern Cascades of far northern California and southern Oregon. Click here for an interactive map, which shows in green just how small of an area the Sierra Nevada red fox DPS inhabits.

When it listed the Sierra Nevada DPS as endangered, the Fish and Wildlife Service recognized the risk of extinction posed by the population’s small size, and hybridization with nonnative foxes.  Additionally, the Fish and Wildlife Service noted the risk posed by coyotes, which Sierra Nevada red foxes generally try to avoid by occupying snowier, higher-elevation habitats.

The Forest Service’s OSV designations will exacerbate the threats to the fox. The Forest Service’s decision included designating a 411-acre off-trail over-snow vehicle “play area” at Sonora Pass, despite evidence snowmobiles and their loud noise can displace wildlife from normal winter habitat, causing the animals to use limited energy reserves to move to other areas that may have less food and shelter.  Snowmobile use can also limit the availability of foxes’ rodent prey in two ways.  First, snowmobile traffic compacts snow, thereby reducing temperature and available oxygen in the spaces between the ground and the bottom of the snowpack, restricting rodents from those areas or lowering their survival.  Second, snowmobile trails provide coyotes easier access into areas that would otherwise be difficult to access due to deep snow, allowing coyotes to prey on rodents that would otherwise be available as prey for the fox.  Coyotes also kill foxes.

Snowmobile advocates claim the Forest Service’s OSV designations are too restrictive. We’ve intervened in their lawsuit for the opposite reason: because the Forest Service made its area and trail designations without considering the harmful effects of snowmobiles on the few remaining Sierra Nevada red foxes on Sonora Pass.

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A federal court has just restored Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf after they were eliminated by the Trump administration in 2020.

I want you to be one of the first people to hear about this great news for wolves. If you’d like more details—including a copy of the judge’s ruling—check out our press release. This victory belongs to you and all Guardians who have stood together in defense of wolves!

The February 10 decision not only provides a stay of execution for wolves in Wisconsin and other Great Lakes states, but it also means that pioneering wolves migrating to new habitats in Colorado, Nevada, California, and beyond can’t be shot or trapped by trophy hunters.

While the decision immediately redesignates the gray wolf as a species threatened with extinction in the lower 48 states, it unfortunately doesn’t apply to the Northern Rockies wolf population, for which federal protections were removed by Congress in 2011.

As our Wildlife Program Director Lindsay Larris told the press today, “While we are thankful for this ruling, we also call on Secretary Deb Haaland to issue emergency relisting protections for the Northern Rockies wolf population to halt the senseless slaughter taking place.”

The fact is while today’s ruling is a great victory for many wolves, it does nothing to stop the war on wolves in the Northern Rockies, where over 20 percent of all Yellowstone National Park wolves have been killed in just a few months and Montana and Idaho are on pace to eliminate the majority of wolves within their borders this year.

To put it bluntly, this is a slaughter of wolves the likes of which America hasn’t witnessed in 100 years. That’s why we need everyone in this fight.

The job of wolf recovery will not be finished until the sound of a howling wolf can be heard in every landscape across this great nation. We must stay vigilant and we must remain relentless in our defense of wolves until they are not just surviving, but thriving.

So with that in mind, I want you to celebrate this victory by transforming your joy into renewed determination to protect Yellowstone’s wolves and all wolves across Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

Please write the Biden administration and demand that they immediately restore Endangered Species Act protections to wolves in the Northern Rockies.

Then, if you are able, please make a special donation to our Wolf Defense Fund so that we have the resources needed to keep fighting—and winning—for wolves.

When we follow our hearts, band together, and do what’s necessary and just—even against great odds—we can both create safe spaces for wolves and also fulfill the essential role holding our government accountable to its obligations to uphold the law.

Howl with me to celebrate this critical victory for wolves, then join us to finish the job.

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Speak up for Wolves: Sign the Petition!

The Mexican gray wolf, or lobo, is one of the most endangered carnivores in the world. After lobos were nearly wiped out, reintroduction began in 1998 in remote areas of New Mexico and Arizona. Since then, recovery has been slow and turbulent. In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decided that the only wild population of Mexican gray wolves in the U.S. was not essential to the recovery of Mexican gray wolves as a species. Guardians and our allies sued, and in 2018, a U.S. district judge told USFWS to go back to the drawing board to write a new management rule for the lobo. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently seeking comments on that new Mexican wolf management rule. This is our last chance to make sure the agency gets recovery right, so please submit your comment!

Tweet for Lobos!

We’ve assembled eight ready-to-go tweets, complete with inspiring images and a link to the petition. All you have to do is “grab-n-go” to help raise awareness and make a big difference in the defense of the lobos! P.S. These work great on Facebook, too!

Tweet #1
#Wolves keep the Gila wild! Celebrate the 97th anniversary of the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico by urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Gila’s most iconic resident—the critically endangered Mexican #wolf: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos #KeepItWild #StopExtinction

 

Tweet #2

Lobos are essential! Mexican gray #wolves are critical ecosystem influencers in the desert Southwest. They keep prey populations healthy and in balance, protect riparian and aquatic resources, and indicate the health of entire ecosystems. Take action: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Tweet #3

Humans are the largest obstacle to recovering Mexican #wolves. Along with illegal trapping, poaching and vehicular mortalities, politically motivated ‘recovery’ plans have put lobos in a precarious position. Take action to help get #wolf recovery right: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Tweet #4

Real recovery for Mexican #wolves would include three distinct, but connected populations. Along with lobos‘ current range in the Greater Gila Bioregion, the Grand Canyon area and the Southern Rockies are identified as prime habitat. Help make it happen: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Tweet #5

Mexican #wolves in the wild are, on average, as related as brothers and sisters. Though lobos numbers are slowly increasing, the greatest indicator of a successful #wolf recovery effort is the genetic health of the wild population. Support real recovery: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Tweet #6

To truly recover Mexican gray #wolves a new management rule should be based on the best available science and prioritize enhancing the genetic diversity of the wild lobo population. Raise your voice to make sure Mexican #wolf recovery is done right: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Tweet #7

Did you know that the Mexican gray wolf, or lobo, is the most endangered gray #wolf in North America and one of the most endangered carnivores in the world? Tell the @USFWS we need a new management rule that will actually recover Mexican #wolves: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Tweet #8

Almost a century after Aldo Leopold shot a Mexican #wolf in the Gila, only 186 of these wolves exist in the wild. The fierce green fire he saw in the wolf’s eyes still flickers in the #wolves who roam the Greater Gila today. Help support full recovery: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Amplify YOUR Voice for Wolves: Write a Letter to the Editor

Letters to the editor (LTE) are a great way to share your perspective and encourage others to speak up for lobos. It’s easy, fast, and effective—all you have to do is write your short perspective on why wolves deserve more protections and why the southwest needs more wolves. Be sure to mention that U.S. Fish and Wildlife is taking public comments on wolf management right now and comments can be submitted here: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

You can submit your letter to your local outlet, or if you are not from the region, submit it to a statewide outlet. Here are direct links to submission forms, note that different papers have different word count limits.

New Mexico

Arizona

LTE Talking Points: Here are key elements of a new lobo management rule that will help truly recover and restore Mexican wolves to their historic range. Please use these talking points as a guideline for drafting your individual LTE, but what’s most important is that your voice and your reason for wanting lobo recovery come through. So, please speak in your own words, but make sure to emphasis the fact that a new Mexican wolf management rule must:

Rescue Mexican wolves from a genetic bottleneck

  • A real genetic rescue entails releasing adult wolf pairs with pups until the wild population of lobos demonstrates adequate genetic diversity improvements. Releasing a set, limited number of wolves into the wild is not a real genetic objective—very few wolves who reach breeding age actually contribute their genes to the wild population.

Allow lobos to roam throughout their historic range

  • Preventing wolves from crossing arbitrary political boundaries like Interstate 40 is unacceptable. In order to truly recover, Mexican wolves need access to suitable habitat in the southern Rockies and the Grand Canyon region.

Designate lobos as “essential”

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the only wild population of Mexican wolves in the U.S. as “non-essential” to the recovery of the species in the wild. Designating this population as “essential” is common sense and crucial to recovery.

Reduce wolf-livestock conflict

  • Wolves are native carnivores highly adapted to the desert southwest. They should not bear the burden of livestock-wildlife conflict when non-native cows are grazing on public lands without protection.