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Protect Natural Treasures

From Canada's Spirit Bear Coast to California's Baja gray whale nursery to Alaska's Tongass rainforest, we work to secure long-term protection for exceptional wild places.

Policy Solution

We push the government to end all new leasing of fossil fuels on public lands and waters.

Policy Solution

We fight dirty energy projects on all fronts—from offshore oil rigs in the Arctic to fracking rigs in people’s backyards.

Policy Solution

We ensure wind and solar projects won't harm ecosystems by identifying potential conflicts from the beginning.

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What You Can Do

Tell Interior Secretary Zinke to defend our national monuments

Experts & Resources

On Location
The Call to Protect One of the Last Untouched Stretches of the Boreal Forest
The Cree First Nation of Waswanipi speak out on how Canada logging companies could devastate their ancestral heartland and decimate homes of imperiled wildlife.

The following is a transcript of the video.

My name is Mandy Gull.

I'm from the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi. We are the Cree of Eeyou Istchee in Northern Quebec.

Eeyou means “Cree,” and Istchee means “land.” These two words, they go hand‑in‑hand. You cannot be Eeyou without Istchee.

A lot of people don't realize that the Cree people are subsistence hunters. We do hunt and trap daily.

The Broadback is basically our last intact forest.

All of the traditional and cultural activities that we practice out there on the land, that's who we are. That's us.

Our culture is out there on the Broadback. Our identity is out there on the Broadback. That's why it's so special and so crucial to protect.

What we're ultimately trying to achieve is a large intact old‑growth forest that's protected, that has limited access, that is not impacted by forestry or logging practices.

We're here because we want to ask the logging industry to accommodate and cooperate in how they conduct harvesting practices.

We're looking to come together and really see how we can collaborate and obtain protection of this important valley. We believe that the key is really the support of the Quebec government.

We're guaranteed rights to hunt, fish, trap, and harvest within the traditional territories of the community, so we're really working to protect this. When we see these large spaces that are clear-cuts, vast open areas, we often consider them to be dead zones. There's no wildlife in these areas. The vegetation doesn't grow back.

A trapline system is a hunting territory. The trapline system of Waswanipi is heavily impacted by forestry roads. We have 33,000 kilometers spanning through the territory. Recently, we see companies coming into more northern areas, and they're planning on building roads in areas that are left untouched.

Ninety percent of our traplines were clear‑cut. This is the last 10 percent that we have, and we want to preserve that for the next generations to come.

When we come up here, we hunt moose. We come for sturgeon, and we come for walleye.

Up here, all the wildlife hasn't been impacted, and the rivers haven't been impacted. There's no sediments that go into the rivers.

So when we're talking about the last intact forest, we're talking about trees that are hundreds of years old. It's a forest that has never been logged. That's why it's so important for the Crees to be stewards of the land, to be the protectors for the Broadback forest.

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Action Figure

A Berkeley scientist is studying how climate change is affecting California’s giant sequoias, long considered dependable forest stalwarts.

Action Figure
The Tree Whisperer
A Berkeley scientist is studying how climate change is affecting California’s giant sequoias, long considered dependable forest stalwarts.

Photo courtesy of Anthony Ambrose

For Anthony Ambrose, a University of California, Berkeley, tree biologist, fieldwork means getting up-close and personal with some of the world’s largest living things. In the wee hours of the morning, his team of intrepid researchers hike out to groves of giant sequoias, where they strap on climbing gear and scale the trunks to reach the upper branches before the sun comes up. Sometimes they even bed down in tree hammocks for the night. But Ambrose is far from just a tree-hugger. He’s a skilled diagnostician, documenting the trees’ health and future prospects as the earth’s climate continues to warm.

In the California mountain forests where they grow, giant sequoias have long been regarded as dependable stalwarts, surviving fires, earthquakes, and periods of widely fluctuating temperature. But although they can live more than 3,000 years, the evergreen behemoths aren’t invulnerable. Their survival is intricately tied to water that accumulates as snow high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. As temperatures have climbed, this critical water source has shrunk, making it harder for the trees to get the hundreds of gallons they need each day.

In 2014, the third year of California’s most recent drought, Ambrose’s colleague Nate Stephenson of the U.S. Geological Survey noticed huge swaths of brown foliage as he walked through the groves at Sequoia National Park. Many dried-out branches were also falling off. “That was very unusual, and it hadn’t been observed before,” Ambrose says. “We really wanted to understand what was going on with the trees and how severe [the condition] was.” Through his ventures into the sequoia canopies, Ambrose hopes to quantify the effects of drought on the trees. The nighttime excursions provide him with a baseline water status on the trees—“a kind of resting heart rate equivalent,” as he puts it.

“It’s important to be looking at how climate change is going to affect this species,” says NRDC senior scientist Peter Miller. “The trees are dependent on the environmental conditions in which they’ve evolved, and those conditions are changing rapidly and dramatically.” The health of the environment is also dependent on the trees, of course, with these towering groves soaking up huge amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The canopy of Sequoia National Park

Courtesy Anthony Ambrose

California’s landscape would be forever altered if these seemingly ageless forests were to disappear. “These 2,000- to 3,000-year-old monarch trees—each one is unique, reflecting their unique history,” Ambrose says. “If we lose them in their native groves, it’s a loss for biodiversity.” Sequoias provide habitats for a range of wildlife, including at least six species of bats, white-headed woodpeckers, and various salamanders. Douglas squirrels—which naturalist John Muir described in his book The Mountains of California (1894) as “without exception, the wildest animal I ever saw—a fiery, sputtering little bolt of life”—feast on scales from the trees’ cones.

At the start of a typical research day, Ambrose uses his crossbow to shoot a blunt-tipped arrow into the top branches of each tree under study. With fishing line tied to the arrow, he and his team pull a climbing rope up onto a branch more than 200 feet in the air. Once this “access line” is established, the researchers can ascend hundreds of feet to take cuttings from the tops of the trees, where dark-green foliage sprouts in dense clusters. “When you get up into their crowns,” Ambrose says, “you get a different perspective on how big and gnarly and complex they really are.”

Back on the ground, the scientists put the cuttings inside a pressure chamber, then monitor them carefully as they pump the chamber up with nitrogen gas. The pressure reading when water starts seeping out of the stem equals the pressure the water was under when the sample was cut. This measurement indicates the level of tension within the tree’s water column, which rises as trees become more drought-stressed. If the tension gets too high, “tiny little air bubbles form [in the vessels], and it blocks water movement,” Ambrose says. “It can basically kill the tree.”

Ambrose cutting leaves from the top of a giant sequoia in Sequoia National Park

Lincoln Else/KQED

Back at the lab, the researchers examine the cuttings for other signs of drought-related stress. It’s common, Ambrose says, to see sequoias closing tiny pores, known as stomata, on their needles. Though this is an effective strategy to conserve water in the short term, it also impairs the tree’s ability to perform photosynthesis and store carbon over time. And in some tree cuttings, Ambrose has observed those deadly air bubbles developing within the vessels. “When things get tough, the giant sequoias are able to withstand it for a period of time. They kind of hunker down,” Ambrose says. “But at some point, they may reach some threshold where they may not be able to regrow their foliage. The seedlings may not be able to survive.” What’s more, if drought conditions continue to parch or kill the giant trees, they could become vulnerable to severe wildfires that damage whole groves beyond recovery.

Assuming climate change continues as predicted, what’s the most reasonable projection of what could happen to the trees over the next century or so? “My personal opinion is it’s not looking good,” Ambrose says. “The trees were more stressed than we’d ever measured them before. As temperatures continue to increase, the drying power of the atmosphere is increasing; the snowpack’s melting faster.”

But Ambrose isn’t giving up on the earth’s most massive tree. He’s collaborating with the National Park Service (NPS) and the Carnegie Airborne Observatory to develop detailed maps that will reveal patterns of drought vulnerability within the sequoia groves. In areas hardest hit, other species like white fir could be thinned with controlled burning techniques to maximize the amount of water the giant sequoias can access. Ambrose says the NPS may also consider a targeted irrigation program, should things grow dire. With measures like these, he says, “you can hopefully increase the ability of the trees to [withstand] future droughts—give them that extra little benefit.” He cautions, though, that he’s not sure if these approaches will work in the long term. “If we get eight degrees of warming”—a rise climate experts predict could happen by the century’s end if we continue business as usual—“all bets are off.”

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This Ancient Place Just Secured Membership in America’s Culture Club
Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah will protect some of America’s most striking landscape—and its earliest history.

“We don’t manage land. The land manages us.” This American Indian byword perhaps takes on no greater significance than in the vast, awe-inspiring red-rock country of southeastern Utah. Otherworldly terrain filled with plateaus, mesas, canyons, arches, domes, and rivers extends for hundreds of uninterrupted miles.

This striking landscape has provided for native peoples for millennia, and while much has changed in recent centuries, the Hopi tribe, Navajo nation, Ute Mountain tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian tribe recently came together to make sure a sizable chunk of their ancestral home remains intact. The newly designated Bears Ears National Monumentcreated by President Obama in his final weeks in office—will be such a place. Within its 1.35 million acres lie more than 100,000 American Indian archaeological sites, many of which have been imperiled by looting, vandalism, and recreational vehicle use. Drilling, mining, and other industrial development also threatened to erase much of this cultural history and current way of life in the area, which is named for twin buttes that poke up in a formation reminiscent of, well, a bear's ears.

Tim Peterson

“Their connection to this place is not just a memory,” says Sharon Buccino, director of NRDC’s Land and Wildlife program. “Bears Ears is still home to sacred resources that continue to be vital to tribal communities across the region as a place of subsistence, spirituality, healing, and contemplation.”

That’s why the members of Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition led the charge for a national monument designation. The five tribes mentioned above issued formal resolutions calling for the creation of Bears Ears National Monument, and worked closely and tirelessly with one another to make the proposal a reality. Meanwhile, an additional 21 American Indian tribes with ties to the region expressed their support, and the National Congress of American Indians, representing hundreds of tribes across the country, passed its own resolution in favor of the designation.

With strong backing from NRDC and other groups, the coalition petitioned President Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to create the national monument. Motivated by the looting of archaeological sites in the Southwest during the late 1800s, the 1906 act gives presidents the authority to set aside federal lands for protection. During his tenure, Obama has used the Antiquities Act 24 times, protecting more than 265 million acres of land and water as well as important cultural sites like the Sewall-Belmont House in Washington, D.C., and the Pullman Historic District in Chicago. Along with creating the Bears Ears Monument, Obama also gave long-overdue protection to Gold Butte, a region of rugged mountains, yucca forest, and desert located northeast of Las Vegas.

Unfortunately, not everyone supported the creation of the monument. Some Utah politicians, with their longstanding interest in mining and oil and gas drilling, vigorously opposed it. That the protections would take leasing off the table for extractive industries wasn’t the only reason for their dissent. Many of the monument’s naysayers object to the very concept of public lands, and Utah Congressman Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, was openly committed to selling them off. Utah lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing Bears Ears in May 2016.

Tim Peterson

In spite of all this, President Obama has acted on behalf of conserving the country's rich cultural heritage, and the history of a land shared by all Americans.

It's hard to describe the sheer vastness and majesty this protects, NRDC president Rhea Suh saidThese lands will now be safe from mining, drilling, and other threats. 

One of the most exciting aspects of the new monument is the opportunity to involve the tribes in its management. Who better to task with preserving the land and culture of this place than those who have held it in their hearts for so long? “It was the Inter-Tribal Coalition's leadership and vision that made this possible, said Suh. Native peoples have called this sacred place home for thousands of years. With [this] inspired action, they'll have a voice in keeping it safe for thousands more.” 

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Protections for our Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. Thanks, Obama!
Franz Matzner Alexandra Adams Niel Lawrence

President Obama today has once again stood up for the health of this and future generations by saving the U.S. Arctic and key areas of the Atlantic from the risks of offshore drilling.

This is a victory for our oceans and the millions of Americans across the country that support preserving and protecting our public waters from the harms and health hazards that come with offshore oil and gas extraction.

Most importantly, it’s a victory for our children who will bear the brunt of climate change’s impacts, and who would have suffered the pollution, loss, and degradation of their natural heritage should oil drilling ever be allowed in these still untouched waters.

The U.S. Arctic and Atlantic OCS is held in trust for the benefit of all Americans, and are still undeveloped and undamaged by the oil industry. The Arctic Ocean, home to a vast array of wildlife, is already facing severe threats from climate change. And the Atlantic Ocean supports a rich web of life and and thriving coastal economies.

Oil production in these oceans—if feasible at all—would take decades to commercialize, arriving after the transition to cleaner fuels must already have turned the corner if we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Recent polling shows that Americans support President Obama’s choice to protect these oceans and oppose turning them over to private oil companies. Not surprisingly, those who stand to be most impacted by this decision also overwhelmingly favor preserving, not drilling, these waters. 

Over the past years the call for protection has been broad and unwavering.  More than 1.4 million public comments opposing offshore drilling were submitted to the Obama administration; Members of the U.S. House and Senate have called on President Obama to take this historic action, emphasizing the appropriate use of the Outer Continental Shelf Act to do so; Native Alaskan residents and thousands of Atlantic coast communities, businesses, and municipalities have declared their opposition to drilling and seismic testing; veterans have spoken out on the security risks of Arctic drilling and climate change; and a host of environmental, Latino, conservation, faith-based leaders and women’s rights organizations called for permanent protection of these vibrant, oil-free waters that belong to all Americans.

The Atlantic region contains extensive and diverse fish, shellfish, sea turtle, and dolphin populations. These regions also host important and sensitive marine species, including endangered whales. The oil exploration process alone requires powerful air guns that can injure or kill whales that rely on sound to find food and mate.

Collection of Dr. Pablo Clemente-Colon, Chief Scientist National Ice Center

President Obama’s decision also acknowledges the science that the only safe Arctic Ocean drilling is no drilling at all. Oil companies have already tried—and failed—to bring Arctic oil closer to reality. And the Department of Interior’s own assessment found there is a 75% chance of an oil spill of greater than 1,000 barrels should even just Chukchi Sea existing leases proceed. Recent analysis shows just how devastating even one such spill would be to the whales, polar bears, and other wildlife that call the Arctic home—a huge portion of the region could be oiled.

No other President has recognized more profoundly that our nation is at grave risk from the impacts of climate change. Taking a stand against the oil industry’s attempts to lock in a future of dirty fuels by erecting lasting protection for the Arctic and important areas in the Atlantic Ocean is yet another example of this leadership and a signal to the world that we need to commit now to investing public resources in clean energy.

The President knows we are not stuck with oil.

Clean energy solutions are in our driveways, on our roofs, and fueling our nation’s businesses already. Last year, 70% of new power generation was renewable. Domestic gasoline consumption is below its 2007 peak despite vehicle miles being at record high levels. The development and demand for low-carbon technologies—like electric vehicles—are outpacing every prediction. Just one quarter of our nation's offshore wind potential would match our nation's entire existing fossil fuel-based electricity generating capacity.

Protecting and preserving our Arctic and Atlantic waters embraces the promise of that clean energy future. It embraces the notion that we will succeed in meeting the challenge of climate change, not turn backwards on progress or shirk our responsibilities to future generations.

President-elect Trump and his fossil fuel cabinet may try to reverse course, to deny the science, and reject the voices who so clearly demanded an end to offshore drilling. But facts and the law are stubborn things. And so will be the resistance of the communities and public who want certainty for their futures and our publicly-owned oceans.  

A Victory for Our Oceans
Rhea Suh

President Obama’s latest move will keep most of the Arctic and a good chunk of the Atlantic off-limits to the oil and gas industry—for good.


Oceans are life, not only for the vast array of marine species that inhabit their deep waters and coasts but also for all of us. We depend on healthy oceans for food, a habitable climate, and the natural replenishment of the earth.

That’s why we all scored a historic victory on Tuesday, when President Obama set aside most of the Arctic Ocean and millions of acres in the Atlantic, making them off-limits—permanently—to the danger and destruction of oil and gas drilling.

Our oceans and the irreplaceable life they support are under siege from growing volumes of plastics and other pollutants; overfishing; a sonic invasion from commercial shipping and naval fleets; acidification from carbon pollution; and warming temperatures from climate change.

As we’ve seen all too often, oil spills at sea can be catastrophic. By protecting these waters from the added risks of oil and gas development, Obama is helping to build resilience against the greater assault on our oceans.

In the Atlantic, the move protects a chain of deep canyons stretching from New England to the Chesapeake Bay. This is special habitat for marine life—from deepwater corals, sponges, and crabs to majestic bluefin tuna, swordfish, marlin, and sharks—and it’s a refuge for endangered species like sperm whales and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.

Jonatan Hedberg/Stocksy

In protecting most of the Arctic, Obama joined forces with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who announced similar protections for our neighbor’s Arctic waters.

One of the last truly wild places on earth, the Arctic Ocean is vital to a rich and diverse array of marine life, including salmon, pollack, and 96 other species of fish, as well as bowhead, beluga, and gray whales. The region is home to some of the world’s largest populations of walruses, seals, and polar bears. And it supports eiders, long-tailed duck, geese, and shorebirds.

An oil spill in Arctic waters would be nearly impossible to contain or clean up, and the damage could range more than thousands of square miles.

In protecting these great American resources, Obama acted in the best tradition of American stewardship, reaching back more than a century to the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Perhaps our greatest conservationist, Roosevelt, a Republican, stood up to industrial interests and their Washington lobbyists to lay the foundations and set the standard for protecting special American places for future generations.

Our federal waters, after all, are a public trust, held by all of us in the public interest. It’s in the public interest to protect our oceans, marine life, coastal communities, and all they support from the risk of a BP-style blowout. It’s in our interest to reduce our reliance on oil and gas, not lock future generations into decades of more hazard and harm. And it’s in our interest to protect our children from the growing dangers of climate change by shifting away from dirty fossil fuels and toward cleaner, smarter ways to power our future.

As expected, the dirty fuel industry howled. But let’s be clear: These waters aren’t currently producing much oil—less than one-tenth of 1 percent of U.S. offshore production. The industry is eyeing these waters for production 30 years from now, on the hope that we’ll be as dependent on oil in 2046 as we are today.

Dmitry Chulov/iStock

That isn’t going to happen. As the world agreed to last December in Paris, we’re shifting away from the dirty and dying fossil fuels that are driving global climate change. We don’t need this oil—not now, not ever—and we can’t afford to burn it without betraying our children and consigning them to a climate catastrophe.

We need, instead, to invest in efficiency so we do more with less waste; build the next generation of energy-efficient cars, homes, and workplaces; and get more clean power from the wind and sun. That’s exactly what we’re doing—with the help of more than 2.5 million Americans who get up every day and go to work doing exactly that.

None of this, of course, has kept the oil and gas industry from calling on President-elect Donald Trump to walk away from these protections. Indeed, Trump has called for exposing more of our federal waters to the hazard and harm of offshore drilling, and he’s chosen a handful of fossil-fuel chieftains and allies for his cabinet.

Trying to un-protect these waters would be a waste of time and taxpayer resources. In safeguarding our oceans, Obama exercised the same executive authority used by four other presidents, going back to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who wisely set aside waters off the Florida Keys.

Since then, presidents from both parties have used this authority to protect waters off the coast of California, Massachusetts, and the Pacific Northwest. Congress gave presidents this authority—by law. It did not give future presidents the power to undo what previous leaders have done: In the long decades since, none has tried, and for good reason.

If Trump wants to put fossil-fuel profits ahead of the public interest, we expect the courts will respect the history on this and the rule of law—for the good of our future, for the good of us all.

WASHINGTON – Responding to public pressure and signaling progress in a years-long environmental campaign, the European Commission (EC) today took a step toward curtailing the dangerous, continent-wide expansion of burning trees to generate electricity by proposing to remove misguided subsidies fo


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