WildEarth Guardians

A Force for Nature

Select Page

As promised, WildEarth Guardians and our allies filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service challenging the Trump administration’s decision to prematurely strip gray wolves of federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections across the entire lower 48 states. The notice, filed on November 6, starts a 60-day clock, after which Guardians and our coalition will file a lawsuit in federal court.

The most recent data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and its state partners show an estimated 4,400 wolves inhabit the western Great Lakes states, but only 108 wolves in Washington state, 158 in Oregon, and a scant 15 in California. Nevada, Utah, and Colorado have had a few wolf sightings over the past three years, but wolves remain functionally extinct in these states. These numbers lay the groundwork for a legal challenge planned by a coalition of Western conservation groups.

“As we’ve seen over the past week, counting and numbers are not a strength of the Trump administration,” said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians. “No matter how you try to spin the data, wolves do not even inhabit 20 percent of historic range. This is not true recovery under the Endangered Species Act and a clear violation of the law.”

In delisting wolves, USFWS ignores the science showing they are not recovered in the West. The USFWS concluded that because in its belief there are sufficient wolves in the Great Lakes states, it does not matter that wolves in the West are not yet recovered. The ESA demands more, including restoring the species in the ample suitable habitats afforded by the wild public lands throughout the West.  Wolves only occupy a small portion of available, suitable habitat in Oregon and Washington, and remain absent across vast swaths of their historical habitat in the West, including in Colorado and the southern Rockies.

The restoration of gray wolves could be a heroic success story, but it will be cut tragically short if wolves lose further protection under the ESA now. We can’t let fragile wolf-recovery efforts to be stalled and allow states, hunters, and trappers to push the species back to the brink of extinction without a fight. Please support Guardians’ Wolf Defense Fund with a gift today and help us ensure gray wolves have a future.

One other thing you can do is sign this petition urging the incoming Biden administration to immediately take action on January 20 to halt the impending slaughter and begin the process of restoring ESA protections for gray wolves. After you sign, make sure to share the petition with your family, friends, and networks. Thank you!

In a major win for wildlife in Montana, WildEarth Guardians settled our lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in May, after the federal program agreed to severely curtail its slaughter of native wildlife and the use of cruel tools such as snares, traps, and poisons in Montana.

For those unfamiliar with Wildlife Services, this multimillion-dollar federal program annually kills an average of about 1,500,000 native wildlife species nationally. Relying on taxpayer dollars for its killing campaigns, Wildlife Services often uses costly methods such as “aerial gunning” to launch preemptive strikes on thousands of native carnivores—before there has been any actual conflict with humans or livestock.

In Montana alone, over just the past three years, Wildlife Services has reported killing 152 wolves, four grizzly bears, 52 mountain lions, 18 black bears, 320 foxes and more than 20,000 coyotes.

Wildlife Services has not considered the environmental impacts of its “predator damage control” program since the mid-1990s, and even then, it relied on science that dated to the 1970’s and ‘80’s. And the killing has continued unabated. More current science establishes that lethal management is ineffective at preventing conflict. And the significant impact on ecosystems of such indiscriminate killing of carnivores calls into question the entire program. In the midst of the sixth great extinction, during which species are disappearing at an alarming rate, it is irresponsible and unethical to use indiscriminate and cruel tools to kill wildlife. This is particularly true when coexistence practices exist that are proven to be effective at conflict prevention.

Our May 2020 settlement with Wildlife Services requires a new environmental analysis of the effects and risks of its wildlife-killing program in Montana and, meanwhile, requires the following protections:

  • No killing in Wilderness areas, Wilderness Study Areas managed by the Forest Service, Wild & Scenic River corridors, Research Natural Areas, or Areas of Critical Environmental Concern in Montana;

  • No killing of cougars or black bears on any federal lands;

  • No more M-44s (sodium cyanide bombs) on any public lands, or private lands in 41 of 56 Montana counties;

  • No more lethal gas cartridges can be used to destroy denning wildlife like coyotes, fox, or prairie dogs on public lands;

  • Increased public transparency.

Over the last five years, litigation by Guardians and partners against Wildlife Services has resulted in settlement agreements and legal victories in Idaho, Wyoming, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, all curbing the program’s slaughter of native wildlife and making the program accountable for its activities. And we are not stopping now. Guardians has active litigation against Wildlife Services in Colorado and Idaho, and we are continuing to monitor Wildlife Services’ activities across the West, ready to take on the federal killing program in order to protect vulnerable wildlife.

Montana’s majestic wildlife is part of what makes this state so special. Wildlife Services’ indiscriminate, inhumane, and pointless killing of wildlife cuts against the values of most people. It’s time to bring this killing program out of the shadows, into this century, and start working towards true coexistence with the wildlife that makes Montana wild and wonderful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue flew into Missoula on June 12 to sign a memorandum directing the U.S. Forest Service to essentially double-down on its continued push to prioritize logging, mining, drilling and grazing, all while limiting environmental reviews. During the campaign-style signing event, Secretary Perdue—a former agribusiness CEO whose previous political campaigns were bankrolled by Monsanto and Big Ag interests—not only bragged that “we see trees as a crop,” but also ironically compared America’s bedrock environmental laws to “bubble wrap.” Apparently it was lost on Secretary Perdue that bubble wrap protects valuable things from being destroyed.

Missing from the secretary’s statements was any recognition that America’s national forests, 193 million acres in all, are actually diverse ecosystems that are home to hundreds of imperiled fish and wildlife species, and contain the last remnants of wildlands in this country that millions of people cherish. The secretary failed to mention how numerous communities rely on national forests to provide clean drinking water, or the fact that intact forests do more to remove atmospheric carbon than do stumps. In fact, national forests have a crucial role to play as part of global, natural climate change solutions.

Returning to the past, when resource extraction and exploitation ruled the land is hardly a blueprint for the future. Yet, this is exactly what the secretary ordered and what the Trump administration has been pursuing from Day One. In fact, Perdue’s memorandum comes on the heels of two recent Trump Executive Orders allowing industry and federal agencies to waive compliance with long-standing environmental laws that safeguard fish and wildlife. These orders follow Trump’s wholesale rolling back of rules requiring federal agencies to involve the public, take a hard look at the environmental consequences of its actions, and consider alternatives.

A recent Journal of Forestry article demonstrates the rationale for these rollbacks and attacks is baseless. Even without further “streamlining processes,” the Forest Service approved over 80% of projects between 2005-2018 by categorically excluding them from environmental analysis. The same study also showed that less than 1% of all projects were challenged in court.

Of course, this administration and industry proponents would never let facts change their story, especially when it plays on people’s fears and hopes. For years, those opposed to public land protection keep weaving nostalgic hints of returning to the good ole days when the mills were humming and the logging trucks filled with big trees, all the while knowing economics and automation make this impossible. At the same time, they use fear of wildfires as cover for industrial logging, sidestepping the reality that climate change and the historic drought gripping much of the West increases wildfire risks far more than cutting trees will ever address. The wildfires we see today matches what climate science tells us. If we truly want to see fewer large-scale wildfires, then we need to stop burning fossil fuels and do more to preserve intact, mature forests. Further, it is hubris to believe, and irresponsible to purport, that timber harvest will prevent wildfires. No one talks about hurricane-proofing the Gulf Coast, or tornado-proofing Oklahoma, but the Forest Service suggests if given enough latitude it can reduce forest fires – though the degree of which is left to the public’s imagination and that’s the point.

Ultimately, Secretary Perdue and the Trump administration believe national forests are little more than crops and the best, highest use for public lands is to exploit them with more logging, grazing, mining and drilling. The fact is, national forests and public lands are complex, living ecosystems with inherent value that deserves our moral consideration. These public lands are homes to grizzly bears, mountain goats, elk, trout, salmon and a whole host of other iconic wildlife species. Their survival depends on us, and we need to be better environmental citizens with our non-human neighbors.

America does need a “modernization blueprint” for the future of national forests, one that re-envisions their purpose so we can move beyond viewing forests simply as sources of lumber. In the 21st century, we need to strengthen forest protection, maximize the ability of national forests to serve as part of natural climate change solutions, and heal the scars left from decades of exploitation through true restoration, which cannot be done with a chainsaw.

TAKE ACTION! Tell Secretary Sonny Perdue to protect, not destroy, National Forests.

WildEarth Guardians and allies have filed our opening brief in a lawsuit to require the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore proven safeguards for the protection and recovery of imperiled grizzly bears, Canada lynx, wolverine, and bull trout on the Flathead National Forest in northwest Montana. Our lawsuit claims that the recently revised Forest Plan for the Flathead National Forest violates the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act by favoring destructive activities such as logging, grazing, road building, and motorized use over protection and restoration of these species and their habitats.

The new Forest Plan is critical because it will govern all future activities on the 2.4 million-acre Flathead National Forest for the next 15 years or more. As part of the “Crown of the Continent,” the Flathead is a haven of rugged mountain peaks, rich, thick forests, and cool, clean mountain streams, with some of the last remaining intact wilderness and free-flowing rivers on the continent. Unfortunately, outside of protected wilderness, this national forest suffers from a long history of unsustainable logging, an excessive road system, and motorized use, including ATVs and snowmobiles, that harm and harass wildlife, fragment fish and wildlife habitat, and degrade sensitive riparian areas and water quality.

“The Flathead National Forest plays an essential role in the long-term recovery of grizzly bears and other imperiled species,” explained Adam Rissien, ReWilding Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “In its recent decision overturning the de-listing of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population, the Ninth Circuit recognized the importance of inter-population connectivity and genetic exchange to ensure the grizzly bear’s long-term health and recovery. The Flathead’s revised Forest Plan fails to ensure this connectivity and thus threatens grizzly bear recovery as well as other species such as threatened bull trout and lynx.”

Read the press release.

At their peak, more than 50,000 grizzly bears roamed the Lower 48 States from the West Coast to the Great Plains. After near extermination to only a few hundred bears by the 1930s, grizzly bears in the Continental U.S. were listed as “Threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) on July 28, 1975.

Forty-five years later—on July 8, 2020—the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to maintain ESA protections for grizzly bears living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This momentous ruling is a culmination of years of work by WildEarth Guardians and our allies to protect these magnificent creatures.

Unfortunately, grizzly bears are not out of the woods yet. Grizzlies remain absent from nearly 98 percent of their historic range and the Great Bear also faces continuing threats from climate change, dwindling key food resources, illegal poaching, lack of connectivity among populations, and the negative impacts of roads and railroad tracks fragmenting their habitat. To make matters worse, Montana’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council is finalizing recommendations, which may include support for grizzly bear trophy hunts.

Guardians’ Grizzly Bear Tool Kit is custom made for Grizzly Guardians like you, so please use it to help protect grizzly bears!

Speak up for Grizzly Bears: Sign the Petition!

Tell the Montana Grizzly Bear Advisory Council that grizzly bears need safe passage and secure habitat, not bullets.

Tweet for Grizzly Bears!

We’ve assembled ten ready-to-go tweets, complete with inspiring images and a link to the petition or other great griz info. All you have to do is “copy-and-paste” these tweets and images to help raise awareness and make a big difference in defense of the Great Bear! P.S. These tweets will work great on Facebook and other forms of social media, too!

Tweet #1

I’m celebrating a big win for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone, and you should be too! The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld #EndangeredSpeciesAct protections for grizzlies, meaning no grizzly bear trophy hunting. Details: guardiansaction.org/griz_win #StopExtinction


Tweet #2

Grizzlies are not out of the woods yet. #Montana’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council is finalizing recommendations that will influence the Great Bear’s future for years to come. Unfortunately, several Council members support trophy hunting. Take Action: guardiansaction.org/grizzlybears



Tweet #3

Threatened grizzly bears face continuing threats from #climatechange, dwindling key food resources, illegal poaching, lack of connectivity among populations, and the negative impacts of roads and railroad tracks fragmenting their habitat. Take action: guardiansaction.org/grizzlybears



Tweet #4

While threatened grizzly bears have slowly come back from the brink of extinction in the Lower 48 states over the last 45 years, these iconic species remain absent from nearly 98 percent of their historic range. Act now for grizzlies: guardiansaction.org/grizzlybears #StopExtinction



Tweet #5 (No Image Needed)

WildEarth Guardians and allies have just dealt the Trump administration another legal loss! Threatened Yellowstone grizzly bears will stay protected by the #EndangeredSpeciesAct and planned trophy hunts remain stopped. #StopExtinction wildearthguardians.org/press-releases/yellowstone-grizzlies-to-stay-on-endangered-list/


Tweet #6 (No Image Needed)

“WildEarth Guardians applauds the decision of the 9th Circuit Court—a triumph of science over politics—in ensuring that Yellowstone grizzly bears are allowed to truly recover and thrive,” said Sarah McMillan, conservation director for WildEarth Guardians. wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/victory-yellowstone-grizzlies-to-stay-on-endangered-list/


Tweet #7

Together with their allies, @wildearthguard just scored a big victory for Yellowstone grizzly bears, the #EndangeredSpeciesAct, federal #publiclands, and science over politics. Learn more about this great news: guardiansaction.org/griz_win


Tweet #8

Threatened grizzly bears need safe passage and secure habitat, not bullets! Raise your voice for the Great Bear: guardiansaction.org/grizzlybears #StopExtinction #EndTheWarOnWildlife


Tweet #9

Tell a friend, or ten! WildEarth Guardians and partners just scored a big victory for threatened grizzly bears living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Now let’s tell #Montana that grizzly bears need safe passage and secure habitat, not bullets: wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/victory-yellowstone-grizzlies-to-stay-on-endangered-list/


Tweet #10 (No Image Needed)

Did you hear the great news? WildEarth Guardians and our allies just dealt the Trump administration another legal loss! Threatened Yellowstone grizzly bears will stay protected by the #EndangeredSpeciesAct and planned trophy hunts are off the table. wildearthguardians.org/press-releases/yellowstone-grizzlies-to-stay-on-endangered-list/

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the Trump administration and state of Wyoming’s appeal of a 2018 decision restoring endangered species protections for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzly bears. The original decision halted states’ planned trophy hunts in the ecosystem, which would have harmed other imperiled populations of grizzly bears. WildEarth Guardians, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, one of the plaintiffs and victors of the original lawsuit, played a central role in the appeal process.

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzly bears in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana totals about 728 animals, up from its historic low of 136 when endangered species protections were enacted in 1975. In the original case, opponents of federal protections for grizzly bears argued that protections were no longer necessary and that a sport hunting season to effectively manage down the population was justified despite the fact that the population represents only a fraction of its historical abundance, and has yet to achieve connectivity to neighboring populations near Glacier National Park and elsewhere. The recovery of other grizzly bear populations depends heavily on inter-population connectivity and genetic exchange. Absent endangered species protections, dispersing grizzlies essential to species recovery would have to pass through a killing zone outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks where Wyoming and Idaho rushed to approve trophy hunts.

“WildEarth Guardians applauds the decision of the 9th Circuit Court—a triumph of science over politics—in ensuring that Yellowstone grizzly bears are allowed to truly recover and thrive,” said Sarah McMillan, conservation director for WildEarth Guardians. “Grizzly bears are an iconic species whose very existence is intertwined with the concept of endangered species protection in the United States. This decision solidifies the belief of numerous wildlife advocates and native tribes that protecting grizzly bears should be based upon science and the law and not the whims of special interest groups, such as those who want to trophy hunt these great bears.”

Read the full press release.

TAKE ACTION: Tell the Montana Grizzly Bear Advisory Council that threatened grizzly bears need safe passage and secure habitat, not bullets!

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:

An impassible culvert on the Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon. Funding for the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program will enable the U.S. Forest Service to restore streams and repair or replace culverts to ensure fish passage.

  • $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.

As a little kid, I remember flipping through the pages of National Geographic magazines and staring entranced at beautiful pictures of wildlife. I was always a kid that enjoyed spending time outdoors, and my fascination with the natural world was reflected in the movies and books I consumed. An avid reader, I plowed through many introductory materials on wildlife, ecosystems, and climate. My favorite movies to watch were National Geographic Kids films on wildlife behavior. Through these materials I became increasingly aware of the looming threats of both climate change and mass extinction of wildlife throughout the globe. As a kid, I actively worried about endangered species and became determined to “save the earth” and the animals along with it.

In fact, I was so concerned about the fate of wild animals that for several birthdays in a row I demanded that my present be an “adoption” of an endangered species. Several organizations at the time welcomed donations to “adopt” an endangered species and in return would send you pictures of an individual animal you had helped to protect. As a young environmentalist, I became the proud protector of a dolphin, wolverine, and seal. At the time, I believed that my adoption would ensure those individual animals lived a long and happy life in the wild, untouched by humans.

I now understand that wildlife conservation is not quite as I had imagined as a little kid. You can’t just “adopt” a wild animal and ensure its protection; I was actually asking my parents to fund broader conservation efforts. In fact, I now understand that wildlife conservation is part of a much larger tapestry of environmental protections that work to combat the climate crisis while simultaneously supporting ecosystem health. This tapestry, in addition to protecting wild spaces from further degradation, also ensures the wellbeing of human communities.

WildEarth Guardians’ Wild Places and Wildlife programs demonstrate the interconnected nature of conservation policies which is why I am so excited to contribute to both programs as an intern this summer. For example, the protection of the Greater Gila Bioregion is a multi-pronged effort. Ensuring the health of that ecosystem requires not only working towards the permanent retirement of grazing permits but also working to protect the Mexican gray wolf. Altering the species composition of an ecosystem is a dangerous game to play, and WildEarth Guardians works to restore ecosystem equilibrium through their advocacy in the region. A healthier Greater Gila bioregion also promises a more resilient landscape. Healthy and resilient ecosystems are key contributors to the overall health of our planet, as well as help to maintain clean air and water in the region.

Likewise, wildlife protection efforts at WildEarth Guardians, such as working with the TrapFree New Mexico coalition, contribute to the overall health of local ecosystems and communities. Wildlife policies that rely on cruel killing techniques like traps and poisons are not ecologically sound and actively ignore the interconnected nature of biological ecosystems. But working to ban cruel wildlife traps in New Mexico not only protects wildlife, it also protects people and domestic animals in the neighboring area. Creating outdoor spaces that are safe to recreate in is equally important. In places as beautiful as the southwest, public lands should be places where locals and tourists can safely and responsibly explore the natural world.

This summer, I hope to meaningfully contribute to both the Wild Places and Wildlife programs at WildEarth Guardians. Since flipping through those National Geographic magazines as a kid my conceptualization of the natural world has changed greatly. As an Environmental Studies major, I now have a better understanding of the complexities of conservation – I know that as an individual I cannot save each and every beautiful animal that roams our wild lands. However, by contributing to WildEarth Guardians’ work in wildlife and public lands, I hope to honor the desire of my younger self to “save the earth” and work towards a future where humans and the natural world can coexist for the benefit of all.

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.

The entrance to the prairie dog relocation site on Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Taylor Jones, WildEarth Guardians.

 

A few examples of the subtle beauty of prairie wildflowers. Photo by Taylor Jones, WildEarth Guardians.

 

This baby rattlesnake is just one of the many animals that call the prairie dog colony home. Photo by Pam Wanek.

 

Dalmatian toadflax, the invasive Eurasian plant we were focused on removing. Photo by Taylor Jones, WildEarth Guardians.

Lindsey Sterling-Krank of the Prairie Dog Coalition with a truck full of invasive Dalmatian toadflax. Note the COVID-19 safety procedures in place. Photo by Jenny Bryant.