Pulling a 180. Reversing course. Making a U-turn. Whatever you call it, it’s a complete turnaround from the direction you’ve been heading. That is what our planet needs in 2021. On the verge of a sixth mass extinction, we cannot add fuel to the fire by actively wreaking havoc on the imperiled species and the habitats they need to survive. Wildlife and wild places have been under constant assault over the past four years, which is why we need to pull an immediate 180 and course correct.

Road killed snake on border road in San Bernadino NWR
Road killed snake on border road in San Bernadino NWR

The Trump administration picked some of the most corrupt, industry-beholden, political anti-conservation appointees to lead agencies. Despite obvious known conflicts of interest, they made repeated decisions undermining the health and well-being of our country’s environment, weakening long-standing wildlife protections, rolling back more than 125 environmental laws and perpetrating outright disregard for the conservation stewardship responsibilities they were entrusted to uphold. It was disheartening and frustrating and, in numerous cases, deadly for imperiled species on the brink of extinction throughout the country. …

Turn on the news and you will see the effects of climate change playing out in real time in the United States and across the globe. We see rampant wildfires, coastal flooding, increased severity and frequency of hurricanes, and record high temperatures (2020 was the second warmest year on record after 2016). All these events have one thing in common: climate change. Climate change increases the intensity and frequency of weather events, and will continue to wreak havoc unless we do something about it. Most widely talked about, reducing greenhouse gas emissions would require transformative changes in energy, transportation and food production, along with changes in social behaviors. …

On Monday, our nation will celebrate the legacy of the revered civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Designated as a national day of service, Martin Luther King Day encourages all Americans to volunteer and improve their communities.

Martin Luther King Jr on the National Mall
Martin Luther King Jr on the National Mall

In these troubled times, I hope we can all pause to reflect on Dr. King’s commitment to peace and nonviolence, his call to service and justice and his challenge to all of us to do what we can to make the world a more just place. And although Dr. …

At Defenders, we are deeply committed to sharing the message that science and nature are for everyone. That’s why, inspired by my colleagues’ enthusiasm for the Skype-a-Scientist initiative, I decided to take the plunge a few months ago, joining a high school classroom in Garrett, Indiana to share my experiences working in the sciences. Matched with students who had not demonstrated as much of an interest in science, I was excited to join this group because I, too, had once thought science wasn’t for me. It was not until college I realized how many important roles people can play in the creation and dissemination of scientific work — from community advocacy to writing. …

Hermes copper butterfly feeding on nectar of California buckwheat
Hermes copper butterfly feeding on nectar of California buckwheat
John Martin/USFWS

When the 2020 presidential election results were announced, many environmentalists couldn’t help feeling optimistic. Threatened and endangered species had not fared well under the Trump administration, and the incoming Biden administration has already indicated it will take strong steps in response to the extinction crisis. Vulnerable species like the Sierra Nevada red fox, Hermes copper butterfly and black-capped petrel could now be given protections that are long overdue.

For the last four years, this administration launched an unprecedented assault on the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Even though ESA and its conservation goals are incredibly popular with Americans, the administration chose to favor industry actors over conservation. …

The rolling calls of sandhill cranes emerge from countless tiny specks in the distant sky. As the sun dips below the horizon, waves of cranes approach from all directions. One by one, they land gracefully at their intended destination: an open pasture at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in northwest Indiana. Each year between October and December, Jasper-Pulaski and the surrounding agricultural areas host nearly the entire eastern population of sandhill cranes during their fall migration. …

Describing 2020 as a difficult year is quite an understatement. It took a heavy toll on all of us. Some have been harmed far more than others by COVID-19, racial injustice and harmful government policies. Under this shadow, writing a 2020 recap feels complicated, but also important because our collective work to fight against our planet’s ongoing human-caused extinction crisis remains critical for humans and wildlife alike. Here are some of the Rockies and Plains program’s most notable wildlife successes — and a couple losses — in 2020.

Coexisting With Wildlife

Defenders’ Rockies and Plains program focuses on restoring and protecting the most imperiled wildlife of North America’s Rocky Mountains and Great Plains regions, and this includes helping people coexist with them. Due to COVID-19, our seven staff members have worked from home in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming since March, with some exceptions over the summer for field work under strict social distancing requirements. Adapting to this new reality, we still managed to help complete 98 human-wildlife coexistence projects across the region in 2020! Each project directly saves wildlife by keeping them out of conflict with humans and increases human acceptance for sharing the landscape with wildlife. Our projects focused on coexisting with grizzly bears, wolves, beaver and Yellowstone bison, but they also helped protect many other species. …

2020: A Year Like No Other

The past year has challenged all of us in ways we could never have anticipated. Despite months of warranted civil unrest, the transition to fully remote work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and navigating through a turbulent election season, Defenders’ Washington D.C.-based headquarters, six field offices and satellite representatives across the nation managed to continue giving a voice to wildlife by advocating for imperiled species and habitat conservation.

The California program was no exception. While adapting to myriad unexpected challenges, our incredible team of conservation advocates worked statewide to stand up for wildlife and wild places.

Yosemite with elm
Yosemite with elm
© James Forbes

Introducing the California Team

At the helm of the California team is Pamela Flick, who assumed the role of California program director this year and continues her work to advance species and habitat conservation statewide. In the Mojave Desert, Tom Egan weighs in on renewable energy and endangered species issues as California desert representative, with a special focus on the Agassiz’s tortoise and desert pronghorn. Jeff Aardahl, our California representative, works on protecting habitat for threatened and endangered species in the Mojave and Colorado deserts while advocating for responsible renewable energy projects. Rachel Zwillinger, our water policy advisor, provides expertise on implementation of environmental laws that affect Central Valley wetlands and the San Francisco Bay-Delta. Andy Johnson, who joined Defenders this year as a California representative, is our sea otter expert who focuses on marine and coastal issues. I also joined the team this year as California program coordinator and focus on legislative tracking, program administration and outreach! …

2020 has been a year of trials and tribulations, but among those were triumphs as well, and Defenders of Wildlife’s Landscape Conservation department was well equipped to handle the adversity and opportunities of the past year. …

2020 has been filled with many trials for Alaska’s program. We worked hard all year to fight the multitude of environmental rollbacks the Trump administration has aimed at wildlife and public lands in Alaska. However, from the very northern reaches of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain to the very southern tips of the towering yellow cedars of the Tongass National Forest, we continued to push forward to fight for these incredible places, and we came out on top, succeeding in protecting wildlife and wild places.

Polar bear on sea ice with sunset glow
Polar bear on sea ice with sunset glow
Dr. Pablo Clemente-Colon/NOAA National Ice Center

Arctic Ocean: In November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld our challenge to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s approval of a proposed oil and gas development project in the Arctic Ocean. Defenders raised concerns about the project’s impacts on polar bears and questioned the agency’s perplexing conclusion that to build the project would result in fewer carbon emissions than to not build it. The court agreed that the agency had not ensured that harm to polar bears would be minimized or avoided and rejected the confusing emissions analysis. Existing and proposed oil and gas development along much of Alaska’s Arctic coastline is jeopardizing polar bear recovery, and this decision sends a strong message that industrializing their critical habitat is inconsistent with protecting and recovering these animals. …


Defenders of Wildlife

Defenders works on the ground, in the courts and on Capitol Hill to protect and restore imperiled wildlife across North America.

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