Don’t “Modernize” the Endangered Species Act, Just Fund It!

This is a guest post from Rick Lamplugh, an author and wildlife advocate from Gardiner, Montana. Rick writes to protect wildlife and preserve wildlands. He lives near Yellowstone’s north gate and is just finishing his new book, Deep into Yellowstone: A Year’s Immersion in Grandeur and Controversy. He is the author of the Amazon bestseller In the Temple of Wolves, available as eBook or paperback or as a signed copy from Rick.


The Endangered Species Coalition is bringing me and a number of other advocates to Washington, D.C. for a couple days to lobby for the Endangered Species Act. I respect the work of this national coalition of hundreds of conservation-minded organizations, and I’m glad to go. To prepare, I’m researching and writing. Here’s some of what I’ve found.

The ESA faces a coordinated attack. One of the attackers is U.S. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT)—the same politician who wants to sell off our public lands. Another is U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY). He wants to “modernize the ESA.” (Conservationists know that what he really means is “gut the ESA.”) He says that less than 3 percent of protected species have recovered enough to no longer need protection. Then he proclaims, “As a doctor, if I admit 100 patients to the hospital and only 3 recover enough under my treatment to be discharged, I would deserve to lose my medical license.”

That’s a good sound bite. But let’s take his medical argument further. 

Photo of grizzly and wolf (both beneficiaries of ESA) via public domain

Consider a species being placed under ESA protection as similar to an ailing person’s ambulance ride to the emergency room. Once the patient arrives, the hospital must spend money to diagnose and fix the problem. More must be spent on follow-up to make sure the treatment worked. If a hospital failed to spend this money, the patient would not get better. But that wouldn’t be the fault of the ambulance that delivered the patient. 

In truth, listing a species under the ESA—giving it the ambulance ride—is the relatively easy step. Once listed, time, resources, and money must be spent to implement a plan that will fix the problems that create the threat. That money is not being spent. The ESA is not the problem. The problem is shortsighted politicians refusing to fund it adequately.  

The Center for Biological Diversity (a member of the Endangered Species Coalition) studied ESA funding and found it has been “chronically and severely underfunded.” Yet even while shortchanged, the ESA has been—contrary to Senator Barrasso’s claim—incredibly effective. It has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of species under its protection and put hundreds of species on the road to recovery.

The Center determined that the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s current annual budget for recovery of the more than 1,500 protected species is $82 million per year. That covers little more than basic administrative functions.

In their estimation, “…fully implementing recovery plans for all listed species managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service would require approximately $2.3 billion per year, about the same amount that’s given to oil and gas companies to subsidize extraction of fossil fuels on public lands and a tiny fraction of the roughly $3.7 trillion federal budget in 2015.”

The Center’s solution is simple: increase annual appropriation for endangered species recovery over the next 10 years. 

In other words, Dr. Barrasso, if you really want to modernize, spend the money to treat the patient that the ambulance delivered to you for help.

This post originally appeared June 14th, 2017 on Rick Lamplugh’s blog.

Don’t fear wolves and grizzlies — respect them.

This is a guest post from Bethany Cotton. She is the Wildlife Program Director for WildEarth Guardians, an Endangered Species Coalition Member Organization. The post originally appeared at High Country News (


The recent news that a beloved white wolf was shot — likely inside Yellowstone National Park — highlights the fact that even our most protected spaces are not always sanctuaries for rare wildlife.

Last year, just days after a court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowed politics to trump science when it refused to provide Endangered Species Act protections for wolverines, a rancher killed the first wolverine seen in North Dakota in 150 years. The wily traveling animal was the storied M56, who became Colorado’s first confirmed wolverine in generations when he arrived from Wyoming in 2009. M56’s death is emblematic of the tragic fate of many animals trying to reclaim lost habitats.

For wolves and wolverine, the risks of dispersing to former homelands are exceedingly high. You’ve likely heard of OR7, called “Journey,” the wolf that traversed Oregon and became the first seen in California in 85 years. Upon returning to southern Oregon, he encountered a female fellow wanderer; their family is known today as the Rogue pack.

Unfortunately, Journey’s story is the exception. Echo, the Grand Canyon wolf, was killed in Utah despite significant media attention to her presence. Again, she was the first confirmed wolf in the area in decades. Echo’s story was all the more compelling because dispersing animals are rarely female.

Even though Echo weighed 50 pounds more than a coyote and wore a bright orange radio-collar, a hunter shot her, claiming he thought she was a coyote. The government declined to prosecute, notwithstanding Echo’s protected status, citing its misguided “McKittrick Policy” under which wildlife killers are only charged when the feds can prove their intent to target a protected animal.

A white Alpa female wolf of the Canyon pack roams Yellowstone in 2016.
Neal Herbert/Courtesy Yellowstone National Park

These are the well known stories, but there are dozens more. Wolves are killed in Colorado, Kansas, and Iowa; each time, they’re the first seen there in human generations. Shot without any repercussion, with the government failing to enforce Endangered Species Act safeguards.

These intrepid animals’ stories captivate the public. They have a larger-than-life presence in our minds and on the landscape. Perhaps they remind us of our own youth — how we felt setting out into the wide world to forge our path, seeking a new home, building a family.

Anthropomorphizing animals has its problems, but in many ways, we are not so different from Echo, Journey or M56. I’ve left my home in Oregon to work in wildlife conservation, first in Colorado, now in Montana. I, too, wander the West looking for the best berry patches, swimming holes and gorgeous mountain meadows. Sometimes I encounter a grizzly or wolf.

They pose far less of a threat to me than my species does to them.

These iconic animals are more than emblems of hope, renewal and recovery. They have key ecological and conservation roles to play. That is, if we don’t shoot them first.

Even grizzlies aren’t safe. Scarface, Yellowstone’s most famous bear, was shot in 2015, when he wandered outside the Park’s invisible boundary. And in the last two weeks of May, two grizzlies were illegally killed in Montana. The first died at the hands of a careless-at-best black bear hunter in an area where grizzlies hadn’t lived for decades. The second was shot and its body dumped off a bridge. Scarface and the other two died despite federal protections.

If the Yellowstone ecoregion’s grizzlies are stripped of protection, this nightmare will come true regularly, sanctioned by our government not just tacitly, but explicitly.

If we allow Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to permit grizzly trophy-hunting seasons, the strongest animals — the best chance to breathe new life into imperiled gene pools and re-establish connectivity among remaining isolated populations — will die in the echo of high-powered rifle shots.

As in the bygone Wild West, the old guard’s prevailing attitude is to shoot first, ask questions later. But unlike 100 years ago, we now know how important carnivores are to healthy, thriving ecosystems. And we’ve learned that it’s not too late to restore the balance we foolishly upset.

M56, Scarface and Echo lived extraordinary lives. They overcame seemingly insurmountable barriers, both natural and human-made: crossing mountain ranges and highways, traversing landscapes fragmented by suburban sprawl, fossil fuel development and an out-of-control public-lands road network. Humans have destroyed much of the natural connectivity between habitats, yet these animals persevered: resilience incarnate.

Far too many dispersing animals meet untimely deaths, victims of human carelessness at best, and at worst, of disproven anti-carnivore myths. We should learn more from their plight than just their individual extraordinary stories. The biggest impediment to the recovery of wolves, wolverines and grizzlies, and in turn to the benefits they bring back to the broken ecosystems on which we all depend, is us.

It’s long past time we start showing respect to these incredible animals, lower our guns, raise our voices, and welcome them home.

This post originally appeared June 16th, 2017 at High Country News.

Protect the Science, Protect the Species

This is a guest post by Charise Johnson, a research associate in the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The Union of Concerned Scientists is an Endangered Species Coalition Member Organization.

As we face irreversible destruction of species and their habitats due to threats from habitat loss and fragmentation, overharvesting, pollution, climate change, and invasive species, lawmakers indicate they intend to attack the Endangered Species Act again. Under the current administration, we’ve already witnessed the introduction of several pieces of legislation intended to weaken the Endangered Species Act or specific species protections. Most recently, Senator Barrasso (R-WY), chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, announced interest in introducing legislation sometime this summer to overhaul the Act (here and here), despite the ESA’s history of overwhelming support from voters. These potential modifications would mean shifting the authority of implementing the Endangered Species Act from scientists and wildlife managers to politicians.

Science is a constitutive element of the Endangered Species Act, the emergency care program for wildlife. It is the foundation for listing and delisting threatened and endangered species, developing recovery plans for the continued survival of listed species, and taking preventative conservation efforts. This is both a boon and a curse. Since the Endangered Species Act relies on the best available science to make conservation decisions, it is highly successful—over 99% of the species protected under the Act have dodged extinction—yet this reliance on science also makes the law highly susceptible to outside interference from political interests.

Here I am on a nesting beach in Barbuda, monitoring critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles (see above), one of over a thousand species currently listed under the ESA.

Here I am on a nesting beach in Barbuda, monitoring critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles (see above), one of over a thousand species currently listed under the ESA.

The Endangered Species Act has withstood a barrage of politically motivated attacks over the years, from hidden policy riders to blatant editing of scientific content in federal documents.  The notoriety of the sage grouse, for example, comes more as a direct result of it being one of the most politically contentious species listed under the ESA than from its ostentatious courting rituals. The sage grouse issue illustrates what can happen when decisions to protect a species prioritize politics.

The implications of attacks on the science-based Endangered Species Act reflect broader attacks on science in general. Science should have priority influence on our policy decisions; otherwise regulated industries and politics will decide critical aspects of our everyday lives—like the safety and quality of our food, air, and water, and whether or not our nation’s biodiversity is protected. As scientists, we must continue to advance the role of science in public policy as a whole, and ensure that public health, worker safety, and environmental protections rely on the best independent scientific and technical information available.

My generation has been accused of ruining everything from napkins to handshakes. But we should recognize that we have a responsibility to protect imperiled species from permanent extinction so that future generations can experience animals like the bald eagle in the wild. Ensuring that this responsibility is informed by the best available science provided by biologists and other conservation experts is critical. That’s why as a scientific community, we need to make certain the decisions to protect wildlife at risk of extinction are grounded in science. Scientists, not Congress, should be informing decisions about which species deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act. We don’t need to “fix” something that already works. Please join me in urging Congress not to support any legislation to rewrite or modify the Endangered Species Act—our most successful conservation law.

PS If you need additional motivation to sign the letter, just look at this pair of gray wolf pups! Why would someone be against protecting endangered species?

This post originally appeared on the Union of Concerned Scientists blog.

The Global Species Crisis: Mammals on the Brink of Extinction

This is a guest post on World Environment Day from Chris Rowson, Managing Director, Eco2Greetings.

For some animal species, time on planet Earth is running out. There have been five mass extinctions in the planet’s history, and animal populations so far suggests that we may have entered what will be the sixth great extinction wave. Since the 1960’s and 1970’s, when the idea of saving many of the world’s animals was first recognised, scientists have strived to save dwindling animal numbers. But, despite efforts the list of endangered species has more than doubled in the past two decades according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). More than 23,000 plant and animal species are listed on the IUCN, including corals, birds, mammals and amphibians.

The IUCN accounts for all of the endangered species, classifying them on a spectrum that ranges from “near threatened” to “extinct”; with “endangered” species in the middle. Factors that are examined to determine level of extinction include a vulnerability analysis of a species’ habitat, an indication of a shrinking population, and observing issues that prevent reproduction.

As it stands, 3,406 mammal species are categorized as threatened. In 2015 the number stood at 1,201.  Extinction rates have reached levels unparalleled since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago, and this is mainly because of air and water pollution, forest clearing, loss of wetlands, and other man-induced environmental changes. As human beings we are responsible for being the biggest threat to endangered species. Habitat loss is the greatest threat to wildlife globally, affecting over 2,000 mammals.

Species loss threatens to reduce biodiversity and ultimately the collapse of ecosystems across the world. One of the biggest examples of this are endangered bees. The rusty patched bumblebee’s population has plummeted nearly 90% since the 1990’s in the United States. Bees play a vital role in pollination for agriculture, globally honey bees are the world’s most important pollinator of food crops. It is estimated that one-third of the food that we consume each day relies on pollination mainly by bees.

For World Environment Day on 5th June, Eco2Greetings have used World Bank data to highlight where in the world mammals are most in need of protection and conservation. The map reveals the top 10 countries with the most threatened mammals: 

  1. Indonesia – 188

  2. Madagascar – 120

  3. Mexico – 96

  4. India – 92

  5. Brazil – 81

  6. China – 74

  7. Malaysia – 73

  8. Australia – 63

  9. Thailand – 56

  10. Vietnam – 55

Find the full interactive map here.

Good management starts with science

This post was written by Dave Stalling for High Country News.  Dave is a hunter, angler, and writer living in Missoula, Montana, and past president and field organizer for the Montana Wildlife Federation.

Last year, a group of Montanans, including wildlife biologists and hunters, launched a ballot initiative that would have banned trapping on public lands. They called trapping barbaric because people’s pets, as well as threatened and endangered wildlife, inadvertently get killed in traps. 

Trappers responded with outrageous claims, charging that the initiative was backed by “out-of-state animal-rights extremists,” who were “uninformed about wildlife.” Opponents of trapping, they claimed, were “trying to destroy our way of life.” And this was just the beginning: “Once they stop trapping, they will come after hunting, and fishing, and ranching, and logging.” Many of my fellow hunters also defended trapping, repeating the same arguments.

When it comes to predators like wolves or bears, it’s all black-and-white to some people. You’re either “one of us” or “one of them,” and there is little room for rational discussion; if you don’t agree with them, they attack with fervor.

During the trapping debate, hunting organizations dusted off the “ballot-box biology” defense, saying that such decisions should be made by wildlife professionals whose opinions are based on science, not by citizens who are acting out of emotion. We hunters love to claim that our approach to wildlife management is based on science. And, of course, it should be, but too often it’s not.

The Idaho Fish and Game Department conducts aerial shooting of wolves and sends bounty hunters into wilderness areas to eliminate wolf packs despite what we know about wolf behavior, ecology and biology. That’s not management based on science.

Throughout the West, we continue to carry out a war on coyotes and wolves despite overwhelming scientific evidence that such actions disrupt the social and breeding behavior of these animals and can, ironically, result in even larger numbers of coyotes and wolves. That’s not management based on science.

Colorado proposed a ban on the baiting of bears, based on scientific evidence that the baiting of bears was having negative impacts by habituating bears to human handouts and changing their natural habits. The state’s chief bear biologist penned a piece in support of the baiting ban for Outdoor Life. Before it was published (and before anyone even read it) hunters and hunting organizations rallied against Outdoor Life and successfully prevented the publication of the piece. Two editors left their jobs over the incident. That’s not management based on science.

Photo credit Jim Harvey/U.S. Forest Service

Wildlife management decisions are often based on public needs and desires, and that should be part of the process. But sometimes those needs and desires go against science. Trappers, hunters and the agricultural industry have a lot of power over state legislatures and wildlife management. One consequence is that other citizens feel left out of the decision-making, and are often ridiculed and attacked by hunters and trappers. Our system, with all its tremendous achievements, has flaws, and those flaws can lead us closer to animal husbandry than science-based wildlife management.

A report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the flaws of the North American model of wildlife management summed it up this way: “Wildlife management conducted in the interest of hunters can lead to an overabundance of animals that people like to hunt, such as deer, and the extermination of predators that also provide a vital balance to the ecosystem.” 

I recently heard a hunter who makes hunting videos criticize the “animal rights extremists” who file lawsuits to protect wolves, claiming such lawsuits go against “sound, scientific management” and our “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.” Those citizens filed those lawsuits in response to states doing things such as gunning down wolves from helicopters and sending in bounty hunters to eliminate packs in wilderness areas. That’s not management based on science.

The executive director of a large, influential hunting organization has repeatedly called wolves “the worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison,” and claims wolves and grizzly bears are “annihilating” our elk herds. That’s also not promoting management based on science.

That leads me to think that some of these ballot initiatives are, indeed, “ballot-box biology,” in the sense that they defend and demand good science when state wildlife agencies won’t.

Hunters and trappers are their own worst enemies. When they defend the indefensible — the deaths of family pets and threatened and endangered species from traps set on public lands — and attack other citizens for having legitimate concerns, they just the way lead to more ballot-box biology.  

This story was originally published at High Country News ( on May 25th, 2017.

Statement on the Release of President Trump’s Budget

For Immediate Release: May 23, 2017

Contact:  Leda Huta,, (202) 320-6467

Tara Thornton,, (207) 504-2705

Washington, DC – The Endangered Species Coalition’s executive director, Leda Huta issued the following statement in response to today’s release of President Trump’s 2018 budget:

“The Trump budget makes devastating cuts to fish and wildlife conservation, including to the Endangered Species programs that help conserve and recover imperiled wildlife. While President Trump and his allies in Congress make a lot of noise about wanting to give states more opportunity to recover threatened and endangered species, the President’s budget does the exact opposite, by cutting millions of dollars from wildlife conservation programs that prevent species from declining to the point where they need Endangered Species protection.”


The release of President Trump’s 2018 budget comes four days after thousands of American’s celebrated  Endangered Species Day across the country, in recognition of our nation’s commitment to protect and restore our disappearing wildlife.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was a landmark conservation law that passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. Although some members of Congress are now seeking to weaken this safety net for fish, plants and wildlife on the brink of extinction, recent polling indicates that the law maintains strong, bipartisan, public support even today.

More than 1,300 imperiled species of plants, fish and wildlife in the United States have been protected by the Endangered Species Act, and only ten have gone extinct, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Additionally, a 2012 study found that 90 percent of protected species are recovering at the pace expected in their scientific recovery plans.


12 Conservation Success Stories for Endangered Species Day

Today is the 12th annual Endangered Species Day! Every year, we organize celebrations and days of action around the country to celebrate conservation successes and work to make our world safer for endangered and threatened species. If you don’t already have plans, we have some ideas here for ways you can be a part of Endangered Species Day.

In the spirit of celebrating this 12th Endangered Species Day, we’ve put together 12 success stories in endangered species recovery. Tweet your favorite species success stories by clicking the bird icon and if you have other endangered species success stories you want to celebrate, please share them in the comments!


1: Bald Eagle By the early 1960’s, the count of nesting bald eagles plummeted to about 480 in the lower 48 states. Today, with some 14,000 breeding pairs in the skies over North America, the bald eagle endures as a testament to the strength and undeniable moral correctness of the Endangered Species Act. Tweet: Bald eagles came back from the brink of extinction thanks to the Endangered Species Act: #EndangeredSpeciesDay

2: American Alligator By the 1950s, the American alligator had been hunted and traded to near-extinction. Captive breeding and strong enforcement of habitat protections and hunting regulations have contributed to its resurgence. Alligators now number around 5 million from North Carolina through Texas, with the largest populations in Louisiana and Florida. Tweet: ESA Success! American alligators now number 5 million after bering nearly hunted to extinction. #EndangeredSpeciesDay

3: Green Sea Turtle In 1990, fewer than fifty green sea turtles were documented nesting at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast. This 20-mile stretch of beach hosted more than 10,000 green sea turtle nests in 2013, making this one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time.Tweet: Green sea turtles are one of the greatest success stories of conservation! #EndangeredSpeciesDay

4: Piping Plover Development-related habitat loss, recreational hunting, and the feather trade pushed these beach-loving birds to perilously low numbers last century with as few as 550 pairs surviving. Their numbers have tripled following their protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1985. Tweet: The Endangered Species Act is helping save piping plovers from extinction #EndangeredSpeciesDay

5: Peregrine Falcon The U.S. population of peregrine falcons dropped from an estimated 3,900 in the mid-1940s to just 324 birds in 1975, and the falcon was considered locally extinct in the eastern United States. Their comeback has been truly remarkable–today, there are approximately 3,500 nesting pairs in the United States. Tweet: Peregrine falcons are coming back thanks to the Endangered Species Act:  #EndangeredSpeciesDay

6: Channel Island Fox Three species of fox native to the Channel Islands off of the coast of California were near extinction in 2004 when they were granted protections under the Endangered Species Act. Today, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Cruz Island, San Miguel Island foxes have recovered and were removed from the endangered species list in 2016. Tweet: Channel Island fox are an amazing Endangered Species Act success story: #EndangeredSpeciesDay

7: Humpback Whale Commercial whaling nearly drove humpback whales into extinction, slashing their population from around 125,000 individuals to a mere 1,200 in 1966. Thanks to protections afforded by the International Whaling Commission, the Endangered Species Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, these whales have recovered dramatically to more than 21,000 today. Tweet: Humpback whales came back from near extinction thanks to the conservation efforts and the ESA: #EndangeredSpeciesDay

8: Puerto Rican Parrot  Hunting, deforestation, and other habitat losses drove the Puerto Rican parrot to near-extinction in the mid-twentieth century.  Captive breeding and other conservation efforts made possible by the Endangered Species Act have allowed the Puerto Rican parrot to avoid extinction and increase gradually over the last several decades to 400 individuals. Tweet: Squawk! Celebrate Puerto Rican parrots and their recovery this #EndangeredSpeciesDay!

9: Robbins’ Cinquefoil Although it was once close to extinction, today the original Robbins’ cinquefoil population in New Hampshire numbers around 14,000 plants. In a remarkable win for the Endangered Species Act, the Robbins’ cinquefoil was removed from the list of protected species in 2002. Tweet: Celebrate the Robbins' cinquefoil and its story of conservation success this #EndangeredSpeciesDay! #plants

10: Whooping Crane  By the time the whooping crane was listed as endangered in 1967, just 50 birds remained. Whooping cranes remain one of North America’s most threatened birds due to oil and gas development and collisions with aerial power lines, but their recovery to an estimated 603 birds today is a testament to the progress that is made possible by the Endangered Species Act. Tweet: Whoop whoop! Celebrate the recovery of whooping cranes this #EndangeredSpeciesDay!

11: Brown Pelican Brown pelicans were dramatically impacted by habitat destruction and DDT. Driven to extinction in Louisiana, pelicans have made a dramatic comeback under the Endangered Species Act; in 2014, the population in Louisiana numbered 16,500 nesting pairs. Thanks to ambitious reintroduction programs, the brown pelican was fully delisted in 2009. Tweet: Brown pelicans came back from extinction thanks to the Endangered Species Act: #EndangeredSpeciesDay

12: California Condor Lead poisoning from bullet fragments in carrion and the chemical DDT nearly drove California condors to extinction in the mid-twentieth century. The elimination of DDT and the protections of the Endangered Species Act prevented these birds from disappearing forever. California condors numbered as few as 10 in the wild in the 1980s and have rebounded to 435 worldwide, with 237 of them flying the skies of the Southwest. Tweet: Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, California condors are flying high: #EndangeredSpeciesDay

Empathizing With All Mothers for Mother’s Day


What does it mean to be a mother? Maybe you know because you are one. Maybe you know because you were raised by one. Maybe you know because someday you will be one. There are many aspects of raising offspring, and many tactics and strategies that mothers use to keep our children safe and out of harm’s way. And although being a mother is a uniquely special experience, we humans are not the only beings who exhibit maternal extinct, defensiveness, sacrifice and love for the young ones we bring into the world.

     Every living creature has a mother. And while this may seem like commonplace knowledge, it doesn’t often create the connection between humans and other living beings like it should. We can help bridge that disconnect by not only acknowledging that other living species are also parents to their young, but by recognizing how deep their bond goes and by appreciating their stories.

Becoming a mother makes one vulnerable to experiencing grief and loss when tragedy strikes, but that vulnerability runs even deeper when it comes to endangered wildlife species that are vulnerable to extinction. In thinking of Mother’s Day and all those beautiful mothers out there, three individuals come to mind whose stories resonate in their compassion, dedication, and vulnerability. It’s almost as if they’re calling us to pay attention…


We start with the story of J2, also known as Granny, who was the world’s oldest known orca, until her disappearance and presumed death sometime in the fall of 2016. The southern resident killer whale was easily recognized with her distinguishing markings and unique behavior, and was one of the most beloved amongst whale watchers. Recent estimates put her age between 60 and 80 years old.

J2 on right – Photo credit NOAA

Granny was a very special orca because when she was discovered in Washington State’s Puget Sound in the late 1960s, she was already an adult. During this time orcas were being heavily corralled and captured for display in aquariums, but due to Granny’s advanced age and unlikelihood of surviving transport to a marine facility, she evaded capture and went on to live another 5 decades in the wild.

Granny began to gain worldwide recognition, not only for her age but also her personality. She was “exuberant and fun to watch”, according to whale watchers.  Granny was also commanding, and a bit of a leader. “The resident killer whales that occupy the waters of Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia form the J, K, and L pods and Granny was always the one out in front of J pod.” Amongst killer whales, matriarchs play an extremely important role. They help to determine where the rest of the pod should travel and where to eat, which means that Granny’s leadership probably played a large role in the survival of her pod, including her offspring.

It was said that Granny also had “peerless strength”, so much so that even within a few months of her last sighting, when she was probably close to 80 years old, she was still regularly vaulting out of the water. One scientist called her “the Energizer Bunny of whales.” Granny’s strength and energy may remind you of how many mothers we know seem to do nothing but keep going. Mothers are often left to take care of thankless tasks, and asked to keep pushing on even past when they feel like they can anymore. Mothers are asked to dig deep for boundless energy even when it seems impossible, and much of the time this effort is made for the sake of their children. For who else would lead the pod?

Granny was also known to pick up stray males, helping to care for them when their own mothers died. A young orphaned male known as L87 was often seen following Granny around the waters they swam in her later years. How could we not respect that deep maternal instinct to care for the lonely and afraid? How many mothers do we know who reach out to others when no one else will because it’s simply the right thing to do? Though we can only speculate to some of the pieces of her story, it would appear at the very least that Granny maintained at least some level of instinctual empathy. “She was the counselor, the guide, the teacher of traditions.” With Granny’s death, it brings the endangered population of killer whales down to 78 from a likely high in the 1800s of 200 or more.

Les Lobas

Another tale of dedication and motherly love comes from two Mexican gray wolves (aka “lobos”),

Another tale of dedication and motherly love comes from two Mexican gray wolves (aka “lobos”), F1226 and AF923. This type of wolf is the rarest and most endangered subspecies of the gray wolf. Their historical range includes much of the southwest including Arizona and New Mexico. This species was very close to being eradicated in the 1970s, however, starting with just seven individuals, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) began a captive breeding program to save the species from extinction. In 1998, the first individuals were reintroduced to the Blue Range Recovery Area in New Mexico, and scientists have been working to recover their fragile population ever since.

F923 – Photo credit USFWS

That brings us to what makes each new litter so special as each pup born is another chance to rebuild. On May 25, 2016, a captive, permanently plump, Mexican gray wolf affectionately known as Belle (officially known as F1226) gave birth to a litter of three pups. She and her first mate failed to produce a litter, but after being moved to the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) in New Mexico, she was able to bear a litter with a new mate. Her labor was broadcast to over 300,000 viewers via webcams in her den so onlookers and fans could give support to the expectant mother as she welcomed her first pups into the world. Staff with the WCC intervened in a limited fashion to ensure their healthy delivery and monitor their initial health. The WCC’s Maggie Howell notes that, “Because the entire existing Mexican wolf population descended from just seven founders rescued from extinction, genetic health is the primary consideration governing not only reproductive pairings, but also captive-to-wild release efforts.”

“In recent positive steps toward recovery, FWS has forged ahead despite political opposition by ushering captive wolves into the wild through its pup-fostering initiative. Pup-fostering is a coordinated event where captive-born pups are introduced into a similar-aged wild litter so the pups can grow up as wild wolves and help augment the genetic health of the wild population.” Part of the reason pup fostering continues to be used to rebuild this critically endangered species, is due to the success of the first loba foster mother, AF923. She died in May 2016, but not before successfully fostering pups from another pack.

Belle/F1226 – Photo credit Wolf Conservation Center

After her capture as a young pup and subsequent re-release in 2007, AF923 eventually became the alpha female of the Dark Canyon pack. For the first three years, none of the pack’s pups survived until the end of the year. A second female’s mate abandoned her and her litter of five, and fearing for the survival of wolves abandoned by a female wolf from another pack, scientists placed two of the five pups with AF923. And it worked! Their success paved the way for the placement of six other captive born pups into three wild dens in 2016.

How is this possible? Doesn’t the wolf mother realize that she didn’t birth all the pups placed into her care? The question that perhaps deserves more consideration is, does it matter? The strength of the wolf is the pack, and this shows that wolf mothers have a deep seeded maternal instinct and a will to provide for young pups. It’s almost as if they say, “I don’t know where you came from but you’re here now and you’re mine.”

Human mothers have this instinct as well. It’s why we mourn the death of animals, why we adopt children whom we didn’t birth, and why we remember what it was like to be in our children’s shoes when they suffer: because we have the ability to empathize, to feel another’s pain and try to alleviate it or save it. Wolf mothers who unknowingly foster may behave from instinct alone, but where does that instinct come from? It would seem as though their instinct to protect their young, any young, is similar to our own instinct to help those in need… wouldn’t you say?

Grizzly No. 399

That brings us to the story of a grizzly bear given the identification code 399. She has become the most famous living wild bear on Earth. She is universally beloved, and despite some political controversies, continues to call Grand Teton National park her home.

399 first became famous when, in 2006, she appeared along the roadside in Grand Teton Park. She was easy to spot, and so of course, became a spectacle for visitors and tourists. She’s made a habit of crossing and walking over roads throughout the park, which excites people who may otherwise never have had a chance to see such beautiful wildlife up close. Biologists suspect she may have started doing this after a male bear had killed her first cub in the backcountry and so she began looking for a safer place to raise subsequent offspring.

Grizzly 399 – Photo credit Tom Mangelsen

She has been known as a particularly fertile bear, and has spawned 16 cubs. She has also been the subject of a book and has a Twitter account! Even a hiker mauled by 399 and her cubs in 2007 for accidentally stumbling upon an elk carcass they were feeding at, pleaded for the grizzly’s life to be spared. After park officials examined evidence, they ruled that the mother was only behaving naturally and shouldn’t be lethally removed. This was a public acknowledgement to a maternal instinct that would have otherwise had the bear euthanized. Though 399 over the last decade has shown no aggression toward people, even as she and her offspring navigate huge crowds of onlookers, this instance of a mother bear defending her cubs against a frightening “threat” was actually understood and appreciated both by authorities and the hiker. What mother wouldn’t come to the defense of her babies?

Life is no picnic for mother bears though. In the rugged wilderness of Grand Teton, more than half of 399’s cubs or descendants have perished. You can imagine the tense excitement when after a particularly long hibernation in 2016, 399 was finally spotted again on the morning of May 10, 2016 with a new baby cub. She was now 20 years old and this bear cub would probably be her last. The cub seemed special too. He was larger than most, with a white face, and the two played together often. People who’ve been watching her for years have never seen her play with a cub like she played with the white-faced one.

That’s why it was particularly tragic when in June 2016, 399’s last cub was killed by a car. A wildlife photographer who had hoped to get some pictures of 399 that day, instead walked onto a tragic scene where 399 was seen dragging the body to the side of the road. This is a gruesome reminder that life is precious and short, and that even for a bear as fertile as 399, seeing your offspring through difficult times isn’t ever easy. Life can be cruel and unfair, even for, and maybe especially for our wildlife counterparts. Grizzlies are slow to reproduce and raise young which makes them particularly vulnerable to losses like this and makes it even harder to stabilize their fragile population. It isn’t hard to imagine how devastating a loss like this must have been for 399. In the face of the things you can’t control, what do you do? What would your instinct be? It might have been to get revenge or to cry out in sorrow, but for an endangered species like 399, who had already suffered so much previous loss, perhaps all she can do is to move on. 399 will always be known as a mother, and losing her cub doesn’t make her any less so or any less respected.

What these stories demonstrate is a deep instinct to love and protect. Granny’s leadership and steadfastness helped to keep her pod safe. F1226’s love for her new pups is palpable, as is the selflessness of AF923’s fostering. And imagining Grizzly 399’s sorrow and shock is enough to bring any mother to tears. The stories of these endangered species mothers are not only fascinating, but they give us a reason to pay attention and to care about what happens to them and their children. A world without mothers is a world where none of us make it. For who else would be there to nurture you, teach you, and love you?

These are the stories we don’t often pay attention to because they don’t seem to matter. But they do. If they don’t matter to us, then maybe it’ll be the last stories we ever hear of them. To empathize with other species is a gift that humans have. Let’s use it well. It must be true that many of us learn empathy from our mothers, after all. Many of us learn true empathy, true love and sacrifice once we become mothers. And what love is deeper than that of a mother, no matter the species?

Legislative Trojan Horse

Twenty-four. That is the number of bills attacking the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that have been introduced to the House and Senate in the past four months. While these bills range in depth and consequences, the message is clear: America’s threatened and endangered species are under attack. A flurry of bills attempting to weaken the ESA is nothing new; quite contrarily, it is to be expected to a degree. However, something feels different this time around—as if those bills previously shrugged off as impossible might have a fighting chance in this current political cycle—leaving an unsettling feeling.

To give a taste of what is to come, two bills are worth further examination: Senate bill S.935 and its House counterpart H.R.2134, also known as the Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act. This Act aims to amend both the ESA and Migratory Bird Treaty Act under the guise of modernization and improvement when in actuality, the Act’s real goal is to decrease federal protection for threatened and endangered species in order to appease the private sector. How is this being done? By making it exceedingly more difficult for species to be listed, and remain listed, under the ESA.

Currently, under the ESA, the Secretary of Interior determines whether a species is threatened or endangered, and therefore in need of federal protection. Under the proposed bills, the Secretary would no longer be able to make this determination without consent of the Governor of each State in which the threatened or endangered species is present. As if this was not enough of a roadblock to federal protection, the proposed bill then calls for congressional approval before listing a species as threatened or endangered. If a threatened or endangered species eventually found itself with federal protection, it would be short lived as this bill also calls for species to be automatically removed from the threatened or endangered species list after 5 years—a completely arbitrary and not scientifically based number.

It is already a lengthy and burdensome procedure for species to be listed as either threatened or endangered in the United States. If the proposed bill amending the listing process were to be enacted, the opportunity for species to gain, and actually benefit from, federal protection would dwindle significantly. If Americans truly want to help, protect, and preserve threatened and endangered species we must speak out and oppose proposed legislation such as the Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act before it is too late. Please contact your senators and representative and ask that they oppose these bills and any legislation that would weaken the Endangered Species Act.

#DoggyDay at Interior

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has pursued the same anti-wildlife goals he exhibited in his short time in Congress by using his two months as Interior Secretary to support the killing of hibernating bears in Alaska and rescind a rule that saves eagles and California condors from lead poisoning. 

With that dismal track record, he needed some positive press. To that end, Secretary Zinke is letting employees at the Department of Interior bring their dogs to work on two Fridays over the next several months. And, of course, he’s taking to Twitter to talk about it

If Secretary Zinke wants to celebrate dogs, he should first do his job and safeguard their ancestors. His Department of Interior is still pursuing a nationwide slashing of protections for gray wolves and is quietly walking away from efforts to recover the most endangered canid in the country, the red wolf. 

Tweet Secretary Zinke your #DoggyDay photo or right-click to save the image above ask him to look after wolves with the same commitment he has brought to bringing employees’ dogs to work (on two Fridays, months apart) at Interior.  

Go to and upload your favorite dog photo to attach to the tweet (instructions).

Write a tweet using @SecretaryZinke and #DoggyDay. Here are a few tweets you could copy and paste and add your dog photo to or click to tweet to tweet with the above image attached: 

@SecretaryZinke Wolves and dogs are 98.8% identical. Please #keepwolveslisted. #DoggyDay Click To Tweet @SecretaryZinke Love your dog? Thank a wolf and keep them protected under the #EndangeredSpeciesAct. #DoggyDay Click To Tweet I support and protect my dog. @SecretaryZinke should do the same for our wolves and #keepwolveslisted. #DoggyDay Click To Tweet @SecretaryZinke Please celebrate all canines on #DoggyDay and withdraw the nationwide delisting of gray wolves: Click To Tweet

Don’t tweet? Reply to Secretary Zinke’s Facebook post or send his office an email asking him to celebrate all canines by withdrawing the nationwide delisting of gray wolves and working to recover red wolves.