From the mighty blue whale to the tiny honeybee, species are under assault from hunting, fishing, climate disruption, industrial development, and other dangers.
NRDC defends wildlife by stopping threats and securing long-term protections. Our lawsuits have forced the U.S. Navy to limit sonar testing that harms and kills whales. Our advocacy has helped preserve migration routes for grizzly bears and other species. And our partnerships with ranchers, farmers, and business owners promote ways for livestock to peacefully coexist with wolves, coyotes, and other wild predators.
WASHINGTON – The Department of Interior took steps to invalidate key pieces of a locally-driven plan developed across 11 states to protect the greater sage grouse, an iconic bird surviving on just half of its historic Western range. U.S.
CHICAGO – The Natural Resources Defense Council today sued the Trump Administration for illegally suspending the rule to put the rusty patched bumble bee on the endangered species list. The rusty patched bumble bee has lost approximately 90 percent of its range in the past 20 years.
HONOLULU — After a series of delays and diplomatic maneuvering, the World Conservation Congress today adopted a motion that calls on all countries to close their legal domestic markets for elephant ivory.
HONOLULU — Native Alaskans, fishermen, conservationists and coalition partners today successfully took their battle against the proposed Pebble Mine to the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, securing
SAN FRANCISCO – In a unanimous rebuke, the Ninth Circuit court ruled Friday that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had illegally approved a permit authorizing the Navy to use its high-intensity long-range sonar – called low-frequency active sonar (or LFA) – in more than 70 percent of t
Tomorrow is World Elephant Day, which always makes me reflect on what the past year brought for elephants. As usual, it’s a mix of good and bad. The bottom line: the situation is improving, but not quickly enough.
Here's some of the highlights—both good and bad—from the past year.
Over the past year, several powerful poaching kingpins have been arrested in countries including Mozambique, Congo, and Indonesia.
Countries continue to hold ivory crushes to show the world that they are committed to ending the elephant poaching crisis, with roughly seven occurring over the past year including last week's the crush in Central Park.
The worldwide attention directed towards elephants over the past several years is helping. As CITES Secretary General Jon Scanlon stated: “The momentum generated over the past few years is continuing to translate into deeper and stronger efforts to fight these crimes on the front line, where it is needed most—from the rangers in the field, to police and customs at ports of entry and exit and across illicit markets.”
Elephants populations continue to decline. Indeed, the Great Elephant Census found that African savannah elephants declined by over 30% between 2007-2014.
Poaching is still rampant. A study published in PNAS last fall shows that illegal ivory is coming from recently-killed elephants--not old stockpiles. And the CITES MIKE Monitoring Program found that “estimated poaching rates overall remain higher than the normal growth rate of elephant populations” meaning the elephant population will likely continue to decline.
Even if poaching stopped now, it would take a LONG time for elephants to recover. As shown here, since forest elephants are one the slowest reproducing mammals in the world, it will take almost a century for them to return to pre-2002 levels.
Not only do some countries still maintain ivory stockpiles, but we don’t even know how much they have due to their failure to report this information. Not knowing how much is out there (and not being able to test it) makes it
President Trump’s support for elephants is questionable. He’s unlikely to approve the current petition to uplist African elephants from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act and could undo some of the elephant protections President Obama implemented (tell him to maintain such protections here!). And the Republican Congress is no fan of pro-elephant policies either (see, e.g., this bill). This means we are going to have to fight tooth and nail to defend our nation’s ivory ban and other elephant safeguards.
After a Century, Chicago-Area Otters Are Back—but They Aren’t the Same
These wetland predators are showing scientists a whole new side to otter behavior.
Biologist Chris Anchor is fairly sure river otters are camping out by this Cook County pond. For the past few mornings, he’s heard the telltale tickings of telemetry signals coming from transmitters tucked inside the bodies of a couple of males. He has even seen some otters swimming around, but one can never be too sure whether the dark brown predators with pale, furry faces have moved on to another den. Sitting with Anchor beside the water in the shade of an oak tree, I’m waiting to see them too, despite his warnings that most people never do.
Anchor, who wears a beige and forest-green uniform and a baseball cap faded by the sun, spends most of his time in the field. For the past 36 years he has studied the wildlife within the Cook County Forest Preserve—69,000 acres of protected land that comprise roughly 11 percent of this county that surrounds and includes Chicago. Since he began monitoring the area’s fauna, more species have moved in, including perhaps a dozen river otters.
“Here you’ve got an apex predator that’s exploiting the uppermost trophic level of our wetlands,” says the fast-talking Anchor. “What could be better?” The presence of these sleek swimmers, he explains, proves food is plentiful and the local water quality is good. But Anchor hopes the animals can tell us even more—about how otters behave in semi-urban surroundings and how diseases travel between them and other species in the region.
River otters haven’t been around these parts since the early 1900s, due mostly to habitat loss and the fur trade. But in the early 1990s, biologists in Indiana, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Tennessee had Louisiana trappers send them some otters to help bring the animals back. The release point closest to Cook County was 150 miles to the south, but as the state’s otter population ballooned, some of the animals made their way north. Last year Chicagoans reported seeing an otter in the Chicago River downtown.
Anchor trapped his first otter in 2015, brought it to Brookfield Zoo in suburban Chicago, where vets inserted a transmitter, and released the animal where he had caught it. A year later, he trapped two more and did the same. Now, whenever the otters are within a mile, Anchor can track their movements, study what they eat, and just see what they’re up to.
The otters we’re spying on today are proving elusive. The biologist holds up an antenna attached to a telemetry device and rotates through the channels. Suddenly we hear consistent clicks. Anchor puts his head down and laughs gently. “He’s out. He’s sitting right over there,” he says. “Now you don’t have to guess. You know he’s there.”
Anchor’s experience—and his enthusiasm to get his “ass in the grass”—are part of what makes his work so compelling to the scientific community. “I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent listening to static, praying to hear the beep of a tagged animal,” he says. The quality of his research has also helped keep his lab afloat (he’s one of about a dozen wildlife biologists left in the state, down from around 100 when he started).
Partnering with universities, zoos, and wildlife organizations, the biologist and his team publish about one study each year on the region’s various flora and fauna. They meticulously catalog tissue and blood samples taken annually from up to 1,200 animals—everything from raccoons to turtles. He has also trapped and collared timber wolves and bears in nearby states and conducted the only scientific study on how urban coyotes may affect populations of outdoor cats.
His department is probably best known for its ongoing, 17-year-long Cook County Coyote Project, a collaboration with the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation, Ohio State University, and Cook County Animal and Rabies Control, which tracks thriving coyotes throughout Chicago’s urban metropolis. Most field studies last one to three years, Anchor says, but research over the longer term, like the coyote study, gives deeper insight into how wildlife behaves, transmits viruses, survives disease outbreaks, and adapts to various environments. People around the world know all about these coyotes, says Anchor, and he hopes to translate that success to the otters.
Here on the outskirts of Chicago, otters behave differently from their rural cousins. For one, urban otters seem to be more opportunistic, eating anything available instead of constantly making dashes for the next pit stop. That’s due, in part, to the fact that the city otters haven’t had much competition for food.
In one Cook County pond, Anchor inserted transmitters into every turtle he could find. Then the otters arrived and ate all the turtles they could get their little hands on. The only survivors were those too large for the 20-pound predators to consume. Anchor has also seen them eating fish, water beetles, crows, and even road-killed possums and raccoons. “I go to conferences and people say otters don’t scavenge. Mine do,” he says. And since otters eat muskrats and beavers—unusual prey for most predators in the area—the otters can contract and spread diseases like spotted liver and rabies.
I grab the binoculars. Something’s swimming near a fallen tree at the water’s edge. Through the lens I see a hooded merganser guiding her ducklings. We settle back into our camp cushions.
Anchor and other biologists didn’t think the otters would survive their first winter in Cook County. Oily runoff from nearby highways, they reasoned, would wash into the pond where the otters swam, coat their fur, and keep them from being able to warm up. Turns out they were wrong.
Runoff is still a problem, but to fully understand what affects these animals, Anchor says you have to “sleep with the otters; you have to live with them.” And with only a few years left before this 54-year-old retires, he’s trying to secure funding for another field scientist to do just that for years to come. An official otter study isn’t in the works right now, but if Anchor can drum up support, he’ll begin a long-term investigation and train a protégé to eventually take over.
We spend hours at the pond, watching blue herons and snowy egrets skim the surface and listening to chickadees and red-breasted grosbeaks call from the trees. But the otters never show themselves. Another biologist needs the truck, so we head back to the office. Anchor will return tomorrow (and probably the next day) to observe the otters slipping into the pond and voraciously eating whatever they can find there. What they do next—and what they’ll do once Anchor hangs up his uniform—could be anybody’s guess.
I trekked over snow piles, was rained and hailed on and intimidated by booming thunder, and walked on a trail that occasionally disappeared while carrying everything I needed to survive in my backpack. I was constantly moved by the beauty of the mountain ranges and the wildflower-filled alpine meadows. This was happiness; I was at home in the mountains. Living in Bozeman, Montana for the summer provided me incredible opportunities to explore the surrounding mountains, including this four-day solo backpacking trip on the Gallatin Crest Trail.
Not all my adventures and learning moments happened on the trail, though. In our office in downtown Bozeman, I was given a great amount of independence and had the opportunity to work on several projects, including fact sheets on underappreciated species like beavers and coyotes and on the impacts that the livestock industry has on native predator species. I even got the chance to spend a day helping put NRDC’s conservation work into action by building electric fences around bee yards at a local apiary in southwestern Montana to prevent conflicts with black bears.
Before this internship, I was unaware of the controversial issues surrounding human-wildlife conflicts, and how the unique species of Montana, from sage-grouse to wolves and grizzly bears, interact with the people who live here. It was eye-opening in many ways, and I came into work every day excited because I knew I would be learning something new. It was incredible to gain experience working for the NRDC’s Montana office putting my interdisciplinary passion for environmental science and policy in action and to see what working on conservation and wildlife issues can actually look like.
While the place-specific focus on wildlife in the Northern Rockies was totally new for me, I think one of the most surprising parts of my internship was how much continuity I felt with my past experiences. For example, I noticed connections between the environmental challenges that I studied during my semester abroad in Cambodia to those faced here in the western United States. In these very diverse places, the common thread is that people’s livelihoods are intimately connected to the landscape. Therefore, any solution must consider not only conservation goals and the protection of natural resources, but also how local people’s needs can be met and how they can be empowered to participate.
I was extremely impressed by NRDC’s focus on forming collaborative partnerships with other stakeholders across the nonprofit, public, and private sectors to find common ground and reach shared goals. I hope to emulate this commitment to listening, empathizing, and creating innovative solutions that meet the needs of diverse stakeholders in my future work to help people improve their lives by protecting our environment and the natural resources we all depend on.
Even as my summer in Bozeman comes to a close, I still feel like I just arrived and that I have so much more to do, from trails to explore to additional projects to take on. I think I may always have this feeling that I’m sure many can relate to: the feeling that there’s never enough time to do all that I aspire to. As an adventurer, I know we’re always looking for the next great feat, pushing the boundaries of what is possible with another endeavor that is more challenging, more thrilling, and even a bit crazier than the last. As an environmentalist, I know we’re always looking for the next issue to tackle, which can be as exhausting yet rewarding as climbing up a literal mountain.
Every challenge is so important and we want to do it all—to save every species, to stop every new development that seriously threatens public lands and clean air and water, to convince every decision-maker to take action on climate change. We care so deeply about the natural world and the health of the planet that it is easy to feel like taking action is a necessity rather than a choice, like we’re embedded in a race against time, and like standing still is a luxury that we just can’t afford.
Yet in the moments of the summer I’ve spent watching the sunset from the top of Peet's Hill in Bozeman or stopping to watch the birds perched on trees along the trails I’ve hiked, I’ve been learning another important lesson: that we’re only human, that sometimes it’s necessary to make a conscious effort to slow down and just be present, and that we must measure ourselves by who we are now and what we have accomplished, rather than only looking ahead at all the things we aspire to do and become.
For me, spending time outdoors in community with the mountains, the plants, the birds and wildlife, the water, the air, and the sunshine is where I find healing, restoration, and a renewed sense of purpose. I am reminded that I am grounded within the natural world, that everything exists in connection with each other, and that if I truly am a part of all the beauty that surrounds me, then I must be enough, imperfect and fatigable as I am and incomplete as my life is bound to be.
One of my favorite moments of the summer was a conversation I had with Zack during our office outing hike to Hellroaring Creek. I mentioned that my long-term goal was very simply to save the world, and he told me a story about how he and his college roommate entered into a competition to see who would save the world first. Since the race is still ongoing, Zack invited me to officially be entered in as well.
All jokes aside, I do take very seriously my duty to save the world, but I know it can’t be done alone. In the environmental field, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and weighed down by the incredibly large and complex challenges ahead, from species extinction to climate change and drought to pollution, and their inextricable links to water and food security and poverty around the world. What I’ve realized is that for the sake of my own longevity and well-being, I have to clarify my expectations for myself as to do what I can to save the world. I know that if I keep working hard, that will be enough.
Moreover, framed this way, it becomes even more obvious that the only real way to save our world and to make positive change in our environment, economy, society, and culture is to invite and inspire more and more people to join this adventure by doing what they can do to save the world. I find my source of optimism and hope in believing that there is more that unites us than that divides us, and that when people come together and acknowledge each other’s humanity, we can solve seemingly intractable problems, including saving this beautiful planet that we all share, need, and love.
Angela Hessenius graduated in 2017 from the University of San Diego with a degree in Interdisciplinary Humanities and minor in Environmental Studies. She was the Ann Clark Environmental Fellow in NRDC’s Northern Rockies Office in Bozeman, Montana this summer. Her next work assignment will take her back to Cambodia where she will be the Program Intern for the School for Field Studies’ Center for Mekong Studies.
Right now, Game of Thrones fans are howling over last episode’s long-awaited return—and then all-too-soon departure—of the beloved “dire wolf,” Nymeria. Unfortunately for wildlife advocates, the dire wolf’s fictional tale has real-life connotations: no sooner have gray wolves begun to recover in the United States, than politicians in Congress have moved to undermine their progress.
Today, a key Senate committee voted to move forward with the bipartisan “HELP for Wildlife Act” (S. 1514), a misleadingly-titled bill containing detrimental anti-wildlife provisions that would harm gray wolves and the Endangered Species Act more broadly. Frequently referred to as the “War on Wolves” rider, these provisions would block federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes states (Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan) and Wyoming—a state that allows shoot-on-site killing in 85 percent of the state. To make matters even worse, the bill would prohibit judicial review of both wolf delisting decisions, making it impossible for citizens to challenge these delistings in the future.
Proponents of the “War on Wolves" rider argue that wolves in the Great Lakes states and Wyoming are adequately recovered, and assert that by returning these wolves to state management, this legislation would enable the Endangered Species Act to work as it was intended. This could not be further from the truth. Rather, by subverting the science-based listing process and undercutting citizens’ ability to help enforce the law, the so-called “HELP for Wildlife Act” would undermine the integrity of the Endangered Species Act as a whole.
Unfortunately, the bill’s anti-wildlife provisions have been paired with a number of reauthorizations for positive conservation programs. However, these reauthorizations enjoy bipartisan support and should be moved on their own without being attached to controversial provisions. Members of Congress should recognize that these positive provisions do not outweigh the bill’s concrete anti-wildlife riders, and should oppose the “HELP for Wildlife Act” on its merits; unlike dire wolves on Game of Thrones, once our wildlife disappears, it is gone forever. Now is not the time for playing games with our foremost conservation laws.