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The American West hosts a dazzling array of native wildlife and plants, from the mighty black bear and grey wolves to minute to minute caddisflies, springsnails, and irises. WildEarth Guardians works to protect the vast spectrum of native species because they have an inherent right to exist, and because we, like most people, value wildlife, wildlands, and naturally functioning systems. With ecological function and biodiversity come amenities such as clean water, clean air, and natural landscapes. The fauna and flora of the West form the threads in a vibrant web of life, from common species such as the coyote to rare creatures such as the black-footed ferret and lesser prairie-chicken. We work to preserve that tapestry, rather than let it unravel.
Our Vision: Preservation of Biodiversity
We envision intact native ecosystems with their full complement of wildlife and plants. We aspire to a day when people recognize nature’s right to exist and thrive and wildlife are respected and valued; a day when people appreciate the coyotes, mountain lions, and black bears that persist in fragmented landscapes and understand the solace that natural places provide for the human spirit in an increasingly urbanized culture.
We employ a diverse set of strategies to implement our vision, including federal and state litigation, scientific petitions, advocacy for policy reforms at all levels of government, education programs, and economic incentives. Because the threats to native wildlife and plants are many, we need to vary our tactics to be most effective. Our pace is energetic and relentless, as at-risk or persecuted species do not have the luxury of time.
Many dangers threaten our web of life, including urban sprawl, conversion of natural habitats to crops and energy production, dense networks of roads, proliferation of non-native species, and pollution, just to name a few. Native habitats are sliced up for oil and gas production and coal mines; streams and rivers are depleted or degraded by industrial agriculture and the livestock industry; and our planet’s climate is being thrown out of balance by greenhouse gases. When habitats disappear, so do plants and animals such as the Gila monster, which has been almost almost completely eliminated from places where they once flourished due to urban sprawl. Even some forms of recreation are harmful: for example, off-road vehicles crush desert tortoises, compact soils, and cause erosion .All these threats to the web of life are fueled by two main drivers: human overpopulation and overconsumption.
Top Priority Campaigns
- Carnivore Protection. Native carnivores in the West are running for their lives. Whether classified as endangered or still considered common, WildEarth Guardians advocates for these species in the face of intolerance and other perils. Mountain lions, overhunted in most western states, have disappeared from most of their historic range in the United States. Mountain lion kittens are frequently orphaned when their mothers are killed. Our mountain lion project has resulted in Colorado, Montana, and New Mexico adopting hunter education programs designed to protect breeding females and their dependent kittens. Other carnivores in need of defense in the West include coyotes, bobcats, and foxes. Border cats, such as the ocelot and jaguarundi, urgently need upgraded habitat protection and tolerance to migrate between the United States and Mexico. Because nature requires fangs, we work to protect and restore carnivores in their native homes.
- Endangered Species Protection. A cornerstone of our Wildlife Program is advocacy for endangered animals and plants. The best way to pull them back from the brink is to obtain their formal listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Listing species is a top priority because the ESA is extremely effective at preventing extinction: more than 99 percent of plants and animals listed under the Act persist today, and scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA listing. Shockingly, the majority of imperiled species in the United States are not protected by this powerful law. That’s why we’ve petitioned for the listing of hundreds of imperiled plants and animals. We also work to increase legal shields for species already listed by petitioning for critical habitat protection, obtaining recovery plans, and ensuring proper consultation on projects that may impact species.
- Ending the War on Wildlife. Despite the important roles that native wildlife play in their ecosystems, intolerance of a variety of creatures – including carnivores, rodents, rattlesnakes, and others – endures. The outrages against wildlife are many: from barbaric traps, poisons, and snares to coyote body count contests, prairie dog shoots, and rattlesnake round-ups. We confront this persecution of wildlife directly. The centerpiece of this campaign is the ongoing effort to abolish the euphemistically-named “Wildlife Services.” This secretive branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture kills millions of animals each year, using an entire arsenal of weapons. We also work to reform backwards policies and practices, whether perpetrated by “Wildlife Services” or allowed by state wildlife agencies beholden to special interests. At the local level, we promote coexistence and combat intolerance.
- Ending Public Lands Trapping in New Mexico. Trapping is a cruel and dangerous activity that threatens native wildlife populations, companion animals, and outdoor recreationists. The New Mexico Department Game and Fish (NMDGF) imposes no limits on how many animals can be killed by licensed trappers. In addition to their intended targets, traps have injured over a dozen endangered Mexican wolves, countless companion animals, and even several people. In New Mexico traps can be legally placed as little as 25 yards from a hiking trail or public road, and ¼ mile from a dwelling. It’s time for New Mexico to join other states such as Arizona, Colorado, California, and Washington that have already banned trapping on public lands.
- Protecting the Prairie Dog Empire. Approximately 150 species benefit from prairie dogs and the habitat they create and enrich. These energetic creatures fertilize and aerate the soil, reduce noxious weeds, and clips grass tops, creating a shorter but more nutrient-rich blade of grass preferred by large herbivores including elk and bison. Prairie dogs are an important food source for a wide variety of species including hawks, eagles, coyotes, foxes, and badgers, and their burrows provide habitat for numerous reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. But all five species of prairie dogs are biologically imperiled, with most occupying less than five percent of their historic ranges. Victims of intense extermination efforts in the past century, prairie dogs continue to be gunned down, poisoned, bulldozed, and plowed under, and as prairie dogs decline, so goes the myriad wildlife that benefit from their presence. We are working towards a day when prairie dogs are recognized and protected as intelligent, social creatures with a key role in the prairie ecosystem.
- Wild Oceans. Our oceans are mysterious, vast, and home to a kaleidoscopic array of species: an estimated 50-80 percent of all life on earth is found in the oceans. Our oceans are also in trouble. More than half of marine species may be at risk of extinction by 2100 without significant conservation efforts. Our Wild Oceans campaign aims to right this imbalance by seeking protection for a host of imperiled marine species. We have submitted a petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service seeking protection for 81 imperiled marine species under the Endangered Species Act (read the petition here).
- Wolves in the American West. WildEarth Guardians uses a variety of tools, including championing policy change, public education, and litigation, to return wolves to the heart of the American West. These charismatic canids were eradicated from the American West by the mid-1900s at the behest of the livestock industry. Science now tells us that wolves are critical to the health of the landscapes that they inhabit. In the Southern Rocky Mountains, we are working to initiate the recovery of gray wolves. In the Gila Bioregion of southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona, the Mexican wolf faces extinction in the wild for the second time because of rampant illegal killings and government removals of “problem” animals who are simply struggling to survive and raise their families. We strive to ensure that Mexican wolves flourish in the face of intolerance and fear. For the kids, be sure to also look at our Kid’s Corner for fun projects and ongoing wolf education.