National Issues

Leading Sage-Grouse scientists advise Secretaries Jewell and Vilsack that heightened protections are needed for Greater Sage-Grouse

Clait E. Braun, Ph.D., John W. (“Jack”) Connelly, Ph.D., and nine other leading sage-grouse scientists sent a letter March 12, 2015 to Secretaries Jewell and Vilsack noting that current sage-grouse conservation measures in the draft agency conservation plans inconsistently apply the best available scientific information on greater sage-grouse, and will not adequately protect greater sage-grouse from further decline.

These scientists expressed concern that the Departments of Interior and Agriculture are “abandoning science-based conservation measures . . . in favor of more elastic, subjective measures.”  In particular, the scientists warned that the agencies’ conservation measures regarding mining and minerals management, livestock grazing, vegetation treatments, prescribed fires, and the calculation of the overall disturbance footprint were inadequate to protect sage-grouse populations and habitat.

The scientists concluded, “[w]e support the federal planning process and are prepared to assist your Departments in developing measures to conserve and recover greater sage-grouse, but federal planners must commit to science-based planning to achieve this goal.”

The letter was signed by William L. Baker, Ph.D. (Laramie, Wyoming), Jeffrey L. Beck, Ph.D. (Laramie, Wyoming), Clait E. Braun, Ph.D. (Tucson, Arizona), John W. Connelly, Ph.D. (Blackfoot, Idaho), Lester D. Flake, Ph.D. (Springville, Utah), Edward O. Garton, Ph.D. (Moscow, Idaho), Robert Gibson, Ph.D. (Lincoln, Nebraska), Matt Holloran, Ph.D. (Fort Collins, Colorado), Kent C. Jensen, Ph.D. (Volga, South Dakota), Kerry P. Reese, Ph.D. (Moscow, Idaho), and E. Thomas Rinkes (Boise, Idaho).

114 Sportsmen’s groups call on Congress to reject all efforts to sell or transfer public lands

More than 100 hunting, fishing, and conservation organizations, including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Trout Unlimited, Dallas Safari Club, Pope & Young Club, the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, and more than 80 state-based groups, have released a letter to local and national decision-makers opposing the sale or transfer of federally-managed public lands. Recipients include House members meeting tomorrow to discuss federal land acquisition, and its impacts on communities and the environment, and Senators who recently passed a budget resolution that could encourage the sale or transfer of public lands.

“We’re calling on lawmakers to end this conversation now,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO, whose recent blog post addressed the Senate amendment, which passed 51-49 on March 26. “Nothing galvanizes sportsmen like the loss of access for hunting and fishing, and continuing to indulge this controversial idea is keeping us from the real task of managing our public lands.”

America’s 640 million acres of federal public lands—including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands—provide hunting and fishing opportunities to millions of sportsmen and women. Since late last year, efforts to wrest public lands from the federal government and put them under state ownership have been matched by the unanimous outcry of sportsmen across the country. “Decision-makers need to know what they are stepping into,” says Joel Webster, director of western public lands for the TRCP. “Over 72% of western hunters depend on public lands for access, and sportsmen are not going to stand idly by as they’re sold away.”

Sportsmen from across the West are speaking out on this pivotal issue:

In Arizona: “Can you imagine driving up to the Kaibab National Forest, home to world-class elk and mule deer habitat, only to be greeted by ‘road closed’ signs, indicating that the new uranium company owners have prohibited entry?” asks Tom Mackin, president of the Arizona Wildlife Federation. “Such a scenario absolutely could occur if the transfer of public lands gives Arizona the opportunity to sell or lease this former National Forest to the highest bidder.”

In Colorado: “Desert and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep rely almost exclusively on federally managed public lands for habitat,” says Terry Meyers, president of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society. “It’s hard to imagine any good coming from the sale or transfer of these lands, especially for a sensitive species like bighorns.”

In Idaho: “Almost every Idaho hunter and fisherman relies on public lands for their recreation, whether they’re pursuing elk in the Lemhis, mule deer near Bear Lake, chukars in the Owyhees, or steelhead on the Clearwater,” says Tad Sherman, president of the Idaho State Bowhunters, which, with its affiliated clubs, represents more than 5,000 Idaho sportsmen. “Idaho without public lands is not the Idaho that should be passed on to future generations. It’s time to end the discussion of transferring or selling America’s public lands legacy.

In Montana: “Decision makers are toying with our Western way of life,” says Tony Jones, president of Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association. “Sportsmen see those who want to take away our public lands no differently than those who want to take away our guns. This bad idea will not be tolerated.”

In Nevada: “I choose to live in Nevada specifically to enjoy access to its vast unspoiled public lands that are at the very heart of our Western heritage and way of life,” says Larry Johnson, president of the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife. “If transferred to the state, Nevada would go bankrupt trying to manage these lands without selling off the best. This would seriously impact all of us who thrive on outdoor recreation.”

In Oregon: “The loss of access to public lands has a negative effect on Oregon’s $2.5-billion outdoor industry, one that is a leader in Oregon’s economy,” says Ty Stubblefield, field administrator for Oregon Hunters Association. “We simply cannot afford to lose our public lands.”

In Utah: “Here and throughout the western states, federal public lands are the lifeblood of our American sporting traditions,” says Ernie Perkins with the Utah Chukar and Wildlife Foundation. “The proposal to transfer or sell these lands has to be one of the worst ideas to surface in America in my lifetime.”

In Wyoming: “The move by some of our decision makers to transfer or sell off federal public lands is an insult to the birthright of all Americans,” says Josh Coursey, president and CEO of the Muley Fanatics Foundation. “Not only do Wyoming’s public lands, like the Shoshone National Forest, provide suitable habitat for fish and wildlife and critical access for sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts, but these places also provide economic balance to local communities, where visitors pour in to spend time hunting for elk, fishing our blue-ribbon trout streams, or simply enjoying wildlife in these splendid places.”

If you agree with our message, please visit and sign the petition or share the website through your social media channels.

Tell BP: Wildlife STILL suffering, restore the Gulf!


It’s time for BP to restore sensitive Gulf habitat damaged from their oil spill

If you believe BP’s recent PR, wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico are doing just fine. Better than before. The Gulf is restored!

But we know wildlife habitat in the Gulf is still severely damaged from the BP oil spill and the creatures living there are suffering—and BP should not be allowed to pretend otherwise.

Tell BP to stop its campaign of denial and deception, and pay for restoration of the damaged ecosystems that Gulf wildlife depend on.

Five years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and spewed millions of barrels of toxic oil into the Gulf of Mexico, wildlife are struggling. Dolphins are dying at four times a normal death rate. TONS of oil is still being buried or washing up on Gulf beaches. BP’s recent report claiming the Deepwater Horizon accident—the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history—had no “significant long-term impact to the population of any Gulf species” is not only premature, it’s false.

Don’t let BP off the hook. Demand that BP take FULL responsibility for its negligence.

In the National Wildlife Federation’s recent report, Five Years and Counting: Gulf Wildlife in the Aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster,” they studied 20 types of wildlife that depend on a healthy Gulf for their survival. What they found is mounting evidence of ongoing damage to wildlife.

Wildlife will feel this spill for decades. This is STILL unfolding.

Bottlenose dolphins in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay are sick—very sick. They have symptoms of oil exposure—unusual lung masses, adrenal gland problems, even teeth that are falling out.

A 25,000-pound tar mat was just removed from the Gulf coastline. After the clean up, nearby tar balls were hard, thick and difficult to break. The insides were rubbery and sticky, and they smelled like asphalt. These materials are not just on the shore’s surface, they’re also buried in the sand and sediment.

Cat Island, formerly a lush habitat for wildlife, is a skeleton. Once a vibrant nesting island covered in brown pelicans, roseate spoonbills, terns and gulls, Cat Island is now just a small spit of mud.

If YOU believe BP should pay to restore wildlife habitat and stop pretending wildlife in the Gulf are better than ever, then please take action now.

This disaster isn’t over for wildlife. Don’t let it be over for BP, either.

Thanks for all you do for wildlife.

Special interest groups are trying to seize your public lands

America’s national forests, wildlife refuges, parks, and public lands are part of our national identity. That our public lands should be open to everyone to experience and enjoy is one of our nation’s proudest and most sacred traditions.

But this powerful American idea—defended by generations of bipartisan leaders—is under attack. In 11 western states (Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming), a coalition of special interest groups is lobbying state governments to seize America’s public lands so they can be privatized or auctioned for drilling, mining, and logging.

More recently, the idea of state take-over of our national lands has spread to Congress. In late March, the Senate approved a budget amendment (S.A. 838) that would facilitate the transfer or sale of national forests, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges to states. Also, a budget resolution in the House of Representatives (p. 119) expresses support for this idea: “The budget resolution supports reducing the Federal estate, and giving States and localities more control over the resources within their boundaries. This will lead to increased resource production and allow States and localities to take advantage of the benefits of increased economic activity.”

Both the Senate amendment and the House resolution speak to a broader agenda in this Congress to suppress Americans’ rights to access and enjoy the lands that belong to all of us—whether we live in Maine, Montana, or Mississippi.

This radical notion of locking up public lands—including forest lands and Bureau of Land Management lands where Americans love to hike, camp, hunt and fish—would reduce the freedom to access these lands for all of us, including our children and grandchildren. Ultimately, this effort could sacrifice our most treasured parks, wilderness, and national monuments, we may find ‘no trespassing’ signs and barricades instead of open trails and scenic views.

Sign the petition: Keep public lands in public hands.

The costs of public land seizures

  • Loss of recreational access to all Americans: Once lands are seized by states, they may be sold off to private interests to develop for oil and gas, mining or other development. Americans from all states could lose the ability to hike, camp, fish or hunt in some of their favorite wild places.
  • Potential development of prized wildlands: To pay the costs of upkeep, fighting wildfires and balancing their budgets, state governments would have to raise taxes or sell off iconic national treasures to the highest bidder—meaning they become privatized and access to these once-shared lands will no longer exist.
  • Burdens for state taxpayers: Forcing Western states to bear the costs of managing America’s national forests, parks, and public lands would place an extreme financial burden on Western taxpayers.
  • Potential damage to other state programs: Critical services like K-12 education or law enforcement would suffer cutbacks to help pay for the new fiscal burden of managing millions of acres of public lands on state coffers.

We’ve seen this idea before, in the “sagebrush rebellions” of the 1970s and 1980s. It was a bad idea then and it’s still a bad idea today.  Proponents of public lands seizures are conveniently silent on how they would pay for the costs of managing these national treasures, but the impacts of these proposals are clear and devastating for every American household.

The value of public lands to all Americans

At The Wilderness Society, we know that the American people reject these proposals. They are appalled by these types of attacks on nationally-treasured lands.

Americans overwhelmingly recognize the value of our shared parks, forests, and wild spaces for recreation, wildlife habitat, scenic wonder, hunting and fishing opportunities, the clean water they provide to millions of households, and for their economic importance to nearby gateway communities.

Quality of life is directly connected to access to public lands in the West. During the last four decades western non-metro counties with more than 30 percent protected public land increased jobs four times faster than non-metro counties with no protected public lands.

These lands are your lands

A September 2014 poll found that 72 percent of voters said they consider public lands to be “American places that belong to everyone in our country” vs. places that belong more to residents of the states where those lands are found. A similar poll conducted in February by Colorado College found similar results: by more than 2:1, voters in 6 of the interior western states agree that public lands belong to all Americans, not just residents of a particular state.

We want you to be informed, whether you live in Alaska or Arkansas, Wisconsin or Wyoming. You own these lands. They have been set aside for you and your family—to experience freedom, find respite in nature, learn about our history, and pass these wonders on to future generations of Americans. Let’s not allow short-sighted special interests steal that legacy from all of us, or from our children and grandchildren.

New report: Cropland expansion outpaces agricultural and biofuels policies

Land-use changes have caused the loss of over seven million acres of grasslands, wetlands and forests

From Environmental Research Letters

Recent land-use changes across the nation have caused the conversion of 7.34 million acres of grasslands, wetlands and forests to cropland, while 4.36 million acres of cropland were taken out of production according to a new report by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cropland Expansion Outpaces Agricultural and Biofuel Policies in the United States1 details the extent and location of land-use changes during the build-out of the corn ethanol industry.

The first crop and spatially-explicit nationwide assessment of its kind, the report uses remote sensing and other data to assess nationwide land-use changes between 2008 and 2012 and discusses the policy implications of such changes. The new, peer-reviewed study was published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters and addresses debate on whether the recent boom in demand for common biofuel crops and other agricultural policies have led to the carbon-emitting conversion of natural areas.

“We realized there was remarkably limited information about how croplands have expanded across the United States in recent years,” said Tyler Lark, lead author and PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Our results are surprising because they show large-scale conversion of new landscapes, which most people didn’t expect.”

The report finds that 5.7 million acres of grasslands, including native prairie, planted pasture, CRP and more, were the largest source of converted cropland, with 77 percent of new annual cropland coming from these perennial grass covers. These lost grasslands are now emitting significant quantities of carbon and no longer providing critical wildlife habitat. Grasslands are one of the fastest declining ecosystems in North America, with less than 10 percent of native grasslands left on the landscape. Of biggest concern, the report finds that an area of undisturbed prairie and range the size of the state of Delaware was converted to cropland.  Once grasslands are plowed, the full diversity of the ecosystem can never again be restored.  This loss is especially troubling as wildlife species that depend on this ecosystem, from the Monarch Butterfly to grassland nesting bird species, are in steep decline.

Forests were also a source for new cropland, causing the loss of about 200,000 acres of forests nationwide. While cropland expansion has taken place nationally, North and South Dakota have experienced the highest concentrations of total conversion to cropland, followed by Southern Iowa and Northern Missouri, and Western parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The top states for loss of virgin sod were Texas (105,000 acres), Montana (93,000 acres), Kansas (83,000 acres) North Dakota (81,000 acres), and South Dakota (81,000 acres).

The authors found that conversion to corn and soy alone may have emitted as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as 34 coal-fired power plants operating for one year or 28 million more cars on the road.

“The study provides much needed information on the environmental impacts the expansion of cropland is causing.” said Julie Sibbing, Senior Director of Agriculture and Forestry programs at the National Wildlife Federation. “It’s also concerning that most of the land converted to cropland was not likely well suited for agriculture, which could lead to  increased erosion, flooding and drought, while millions of acres of cropland were abandoned, many of which should never have been brought into crop production in the first place. Our federal biofuels and agricultural policies are obviously broken and it is costing the taxpayers billions.”

Since the passage of the Renewable Fuel Standard 2 (RFS2) in 2007, environmental impacts of corn ethanol production have been hotly debated. The RFS2 mandated the greatly expanded use of biofuels as part of the nation’s fuel supply, and was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from liquid transportation fuels. The regulation contains protections against the conversion of forests, wetlands and prairies for feedstock production, but has not been enforced to their full potential. The results of the study may guide policymakers as Congress debates whether to reform or repeal parts of the RFS2.

Other policy implications may also be involved with the results of the study. The Sodsaver provision of the 2014 Farm Bill currently reduces federal subsidies to farmers who grow on previously-uncultivated land, yet the provision only applies in six Northern Plain states. However, results from the study show that roughly two-thirds of the previously-uncultivated lands converted to crop production have been in states not covered by the Sodsaver provision.

“In order to protect remaining native ecosystems and critical wildlife habitat, our findings suggest a nationwide Sodsaver is needed,” said Lark.

Read NWF’s summary report at or the original study at

1 Lark et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett. 10 044003

Results: Which wildlife issues top your list?

By Collin O’Mara


Earlier this month, to celebrate National Wildlife Federation Membership Month, we asked supporters like you to vote for your top three wildlife issues.

Thousands of you responded, and we’re so grateful to be working side-by-side with such caring conservationists. Behind every great wildlife victory – from defending species from extinction to restoring waterways to protecting pristine habitat – is a caring supporter like you. Thank you.

Here are the results of the 2015 Membership Month Survey.

63%: Permanently protecting amazing wildlife habitat areas and wild lands especially in the 600 million acres of public lands in this country

52%: Stopping the destruction of crucial wildlife habitat from mining, agriculture and development

36%: Keeping our waters safe and healthy for wildlife like great blue heron, dolphin and orcas

33%: Helping endangered species like the red wolf, Hawaiian monk seal and manatee recover from the brink of extinction

32%: Combating runaway carbon pollution and other emissions that fuel climate change and harm wildlife

20%: Saving native grassland habitat and the milkweed that grows there for pollinators like monarch butterflies

19%: Restoring coastal water habitat for fragile wildlife like sea turtles, songbirds and horseshoe crabs

19%: Creating safe habitat havens so neighborhood wildlife from backyard birds to native bees can thrive in and around our cities and suburbs

15%: Restoring magnificent species like the American bison and bighorn sheep back to their native habitat

12%: Ensuring every child in our country has the opportunity to get outside and experience all of America’s wild places

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Comments

For this Membership Survey, you did more than vote. You shared your commitment to wildlife and the natural world through inspiring comments, like these:

“I want the wilderness, our waterways and the sea to remain clean & safe for all the birds, fish and wildlife.”

“My childhood memories of playing in the woods inspire me to speak out. All children should experience the joy of floating a leaf down a fresh water woodland stream and hearing tree frogs chirping the arrival of spring.”

“I care about everything that makes up nature and the wild; from the tiniest bug to the largest mammal, from the tiniest seedling to the largest tree.”

“To me it’s all important. I love being able to walk away from the noise and pollution of the city into a pristine wilderness whether desert, forest, mountain or beach.”

“Restore and protect our native ecosystems and wildlife! I am in the process of planting my whole yard with native plants. I spread the word when I can on the importance of planting native. Wildlife is dependent on it.”

“We need the beauty and the awe of wildlife and wild places in our lives to be the best human beings.”

It is clear that folks across the nation love supporting wildlife conservation. Thank you all for the thousands of responses; I commit to you that we will work hard every day to advocate for wildlife protection and speak for wildlife that can’t speak for themselves.

Again, thank you.

Learn more about wildlife and the natural world at our Protecting Wildlife Insiders Call on April 12th with NWF’s top scientist and celebrity naturalist.

NWF celebrates a new national monument: Colorado’s Brown Canyon

By Judith Kohler


President Barack Obama’s plan to declare Colorado’s Browns Canyon a national monument means sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts will be able to enjoy its spectacular landscapes, world-class whitewater rafting and hunting and fishing for generations to come.

The White House announced in late February that Obama will designate use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate Browns Canyon as a national monument.

“Browns Canyon is widely revered for its rafting, fishing, hunting, hiking, wildlife watching, and rugged backcountry,” said Collin O’Mara, the National Wildlife Federation’s CEO and president, “This is why folks from all walks of life, lawmakers from both parties, and conservation leaders across Colorado, including our state affiliate the Colorado Wildlife Federation, have worked for more than two decades to protect it.  On behalf of the entire National Wildlife Federation, we are grateful to the president for supporting wildlife and amazing outdoor experiences by permanently protecting this conservation jewel.”

Browns Canyon, about 140 miles southwest of Denver, is known nationwide for whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River. The Colorado River Outfitters Association said recreation on the river generated nearly $56 million in economic benefits in 2013. The area’s gulches, rocky cliffs, forests and meadows provide habitat for mule deer, elk, black bears, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, eagles and falcons. A 102-mile stretch of the Arkansas is classified as Gold Medal trout waters, based on the quality and quantity of fish. Hikers in Browns have great views of some of Colorado’s most dramatic Fourteeners – mountains more than 14,000 feet in elevation.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this. Making Browns Canyon a national monument has overwhelming support from the public, especially from people who live the closest to it. We know what we have and we don’t want to lose it,” said Bill Dvorak, NWF’s public lands organizer in Colorado and a longtime rafting and fishing guide on the Arkansas River.

News that Obama will proclaim Browns Canyon a national monument this week follows a recent public meeting in Salida that drew about 700 people. Former Sen. Mark Udall hosted the meeting in December so federal officials could gauge support for protecting Browns. Udall, Sen. Michael Bennet and Gov. John Hickenlooper asked Obama to use his executive authority after Udall’s bill to establish a monument stalled in Congress.

“Presidents since Teddy Roosevelt have used the Antiquities Act to conserve some of our country’s most stunning landscapes and important ecosystems. The Grand Canyon, Chaco Canyon and Muir Woods are just a few of the places set aside by presidents. We can add Browns Canyon to the list of American treasures that showcase the best of the natural resources that make us the envy of other countries around the world,” said Kent Ingram, Colorado Wildlife Federation president.

Join NWF in thanking President Obama for continuing to protect America’s outdoor heritage. Tweet: @WhiteHouse Thank you for protecting America’outdoor heritage. #BrownsCanyon #AntiquitiesAct @NWF

Majority of Roan Plateau leases canceled

17 of 19 leases on the Roan Plateau officially canceled.

By Meghan Cornwall

On January 16th, 2015, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officially cancelled 17 of the 19 oil and gas leases that are on top of the Roan Plateau. This is in accordance to the settlement agreement reached in November 2014, stating that the leases had to be canceled within 60 days of the agreement. There are still 12 No Surface Occupancy leases at the base of the plateau. The BLM is working on a plan to allow the two remaining leases on top of the plateau and the 12 others near the base to be developed using directional drilling techniques.

Multiple stakeholders such as local, state, industry and conservation organizations, wanted to see a viable, balanced solution to support the wildlife, outdoor recreation, and energy development opportunities the Roan Plateau offers. The varied habitat and vegetation of the plateau make the area one of the most diverse places in Colorado. There are plants that are only found around the Roan Plateau, rare populations of native genetically pure Colorado River cutthroat trout (which are inhabiting only 10% of their historic range now) and many other species that depend on the plateau for their habitat. Because of these special species, the BLM has identified areas that are eligible as areas of critical environmental concern for protection.

“The Roan Plateau is a key part of the area economy and helps sustain the hunting, fishing, wildlife watching and other recreation. We appreciate a balanced settlement that will help to protect this important habitat,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation.

Additionally, the public lands on top and at the base of the plateau provide crucial winter and summer habitat, as well as migration corridors for big game such as mule deer and elk. Sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts come to the Roan to hunt, fish and watch wildlife. The area is at the heart of what had been nicknamed by sportsmen as the “mule deer factory of Colorado”, due to the abundant mule deer. Muley numbers, however, have plummeted in recent years. Western Colorado’s overall estimated deer population of about 300,000 in 2012 was more than 110,000 short of the state’s objective. While there are likely many causes for the drop in numbers, one looms large: habitat loss. Oil and gas drilling and new roads and buildings have fragmented and covered over habitat. Reducing the footprint of oil and gas development on the Roan will help address those habitat losses.             While the cancelation of these 17 leases is a great step forward, there is still work to be done. Sportsmen groups, conservation organizations, state, local and industry leaders will still need to collaborate during the drafting of the new Resource Management Plan. The BLM is currently writing the new management plan for the plateau and will consider a settlement alternative. It will hopefully include undisturbed big game winter ranges at the base of the plateau, intact big game migration corridors, state of the art drilling practices and no development in Colorado River Cutthroat Trout drainages to protect this iconic species.

An open letter to America’s anglers

By Todd Tanner

Hatch Magazine

We love to fish. We love it. Not in that juvenile, sloppy-wet-kiss way that so many of us remember from high school, but with an “I come alive with a fly rod in my hand” love that’s grounded in maturity, appreciation and respect for our angling traditions. We’ve been fishing for decades and there are very few other activities that bring us so much joy or help us connect to the natural world on such an elemental level.

Unfortunately, those of us who love to fish, and who see the necessity for protecting our landscapes and waterways, are coming under attack. It turns out – and no, we’re not making this up – that we are “radicals.” As Ty Hansen pointed out in a recent Hatch Magazine piece, the energy and resource extraction industries are targeting hunters and anglers. Those of us who support conservation are being portrayed as extremists and radicals.

So what is a radical? Seriously, what does it mean? Is protecting our favorite trout stream a radical act? What about defending an Alaskan salmon river from a mining company? Or how about passing on a healthy natural world to our kids and grandkids? Because those of us who want to share clean water, clean air and healthy landscapes with future generations are being ridiculed and marginalized. It’s almost as if our love for the great outdoors is standing in the way of “progress.”

Here’s something you should know. Most people don’t give a damn whether we hold on to our fishing. They don’t care if there are trout in our streams, or bass in our ponds, or bonefish cruising our saltwater flats. We live in a culture where growth, both physical and economic, trumps everything else; where no tradition, no heritage, no single aspect of American life is deemed so sacrosanct that it can’t, and shouldn’t, be tied down and sacrificed on the fetid, blood-specked altar of progress. It’s grow or die; it’s balls to the wall; it’s greed is good. Nobody – not the President, not Congress, not Wall Street – is willing to consider that unfettered, unexamined growth might not be the best path forward, or that we should steer the good ship America toward a more sustainable, more balanced future.

Sadly, if you agree with us you’re just another radical. You don’t want the Pebble Mine? You’re a radical. You don’t want corporate farms to dump pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers into our streams and rivers? You’re a radical. You don’t want suburban sprawl to trash the landscapes you loved when you were a kid? You’re a radical. You don’t want oil and gas rigs to despoil your favorite section of National Forest? You’re a radical. You want to keep our public lands in public hands? You, dear friend, are a dyed-in-the-wool, honest-to-goodness radical.

Oh, and you say you’re concerned about climate change? Well, not only are you a radical, but you’re a communist. You should go back to Mother Russia, comrade, and take all your commie friends with you.

And that, sadly, is what we’re up against – that kind of hostile, knee-jerk, reactionary crap, which paints sportsmen as radicals working to undermine everything good and decent and pure about America. Clean air is a luxury we can’t afford. Clean water is something we should get from the private sector – but only, of course, after we’ve paid for it. Public land should be sold off to stoke the engine of economic growth. Fishing … well, fishing is probably okay, as long as it doesn’t interfere with anything important, and as long as anglers don’t try to protect America’s natural resources from aggressive exploitation.

That’s the playbook. That’s the meme coming from our opponents. But you know what? It’s bullshit.

That’s right, we call bullshit. Because we aren’t radicals. And we’re getting tired of all these morally-bereft, intellectually-challenged, “greed is good” free market fundamentalists painting us as the exact opposite – the exact opposite – of what we really are.

We’re patriots. We love America. Our sporting roots run deep, and we were raised to appreciate our outdoor heritage. We want – and this is the crux of it; this is vital – to hold on to the things that make our country great; to share them with our families, and our friends, and with generations still to come. We want our kids to have access to the same incredible fishing we’ve enjoyed, and if we’re lucky enough to have grandkids, we want them to grow up in a country that still revels in the outdoors and that still shares in the sweet, ripe fruits of freedom. America is the best country in the world for anglers because we’ve fought, time and again, for clean water and clean air and healthy landscapes. We’ve fought to give our kids and grandkids a shot at a decent future. What could be more noble, or more honest, or more ethical?

The real radicals are the people who put profits above everything else; who can’t wait to carve muscle from bone as this great American experiment in self-governance slowly collapses under the weight of their greed and ignorance. The real radicals are the rapacious profiteers who hate public lands and public waters because our landscapes are protected, at least partially, from their insane “profit at all cost” mentality. They’re the folks who, without a second thought – hell, without an initial thought – are willing to sacrifice their children and grandchildren to the cannibalistic gods of free market fundamentalism.

Enough. We have literally had enough. We’re sick of liars and sociopaths pointing at us and yelling “Radicals!” We’re tired of hired guns sitting down at their keyboards and smearing good organizations like Trout Unlimited and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. We refuse to sit silently on the sidelines while America-haters wear our flag – while they literally wrap themselves in Old Glory – to camouflage their true intentions.

So we have a message for all the haters who are attacking sportsmen. It’s a simple message, but it’s heartfelt.

We love America. We love our landscapes, and our sporting traditions, and our rich outdoors culture, and our fisheries, and we’re willing to fight for it; for all of it, for every last inch, for every river and stream and forest and meadow, for every kid who dreams of trout or salmon or bass or bluegills or tarpon. Greed will not triumph. Flat-earth idiocy will not reign supreme. Our fisheries will not fall prey to snake oil salesmen and crooked politicians. Not on our watch.


Todd Tanner

Ted Williams

Tom Davis

Tim Romano

Mike Sepelak

Chris Hunt

Steve Zakur

Chad Shmukler

After layoffs, NWF chief vows to build ‘conservation field army’

By Phil Taylor

E&E reporter

The National Wildlife Federation is beefing up its field staff and intensifying its push to protect wildlife, restore landscapes and get Americans outdoors, CEO Collin O’Mara says.

Since taking office in July, O’Mara has trimmed NWF’s Washington, D.C., staff while empowering its field offices and 49 state affiliates to recruit and galvanize a nation of citizen stewards, he said.

“I really want National Wildlife Federation to be America’s conservation field army,” O’Mara, 35, said in an interview last week during a visit to NWF’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center in downtown Denver. “We’re better positioned than any other organization to do that. But to do that, you have to be much more present in the field.”

The goal is to stitch together a diverse coalition of hunters and anglers, bird-watchers, gardeners, farmers and recreationists who share the desire to protect wildlife and their habitat, O’Mara said. The group has just shy of 6 million active members and supporters now, he said.

NWF is also expanding efforts to expose kids to the outdoors in an age when electronics consume a growing portion of their lives, O’Mara said.

He is hoping NWF’s broad constituency can ease partisanship in Washington that has hampered funding for wildlife and passage of conservation bills like the “Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act” (S. 405).

“The wildlife message works,” he said. “I can talk to the most conservative tea party crowds in some places and the most liberal crowds in the Northeast, and there’s a consistency there. My biggest goal is to de-politicize.”

O’Mara previously led Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, a position he began in 2009 as the nation’s youngest state Cabinet official.

In his short tenure as CEO, O’Mara has visited 37 states, met with 31 affiliate groups and logged 30,000 air miles, he said.

‘Cut as deeply as you need’

His transformation of NWF did not happen without pain.

The organization last summer faced an $8 million annual deficit, he said. By last August, O’Mara had laid off about 50 NWF employees, reducing total staff to 272. The organization downsized its national office and shed some of its federal capacity on climate change, O’Mara said.

The cuts were “very surgical,” he said. They targeted senior management positions in an effort to achieve a more horizontal structure.

In July, NWF parted ways with it chief operating officer, Jaime Matyas, one of its highest-paid executives. Matyas became CEO of the Student Conservation Association a few months later.

It also laid off Felice Stadler, senior director of NWF’s climate and energy program, and longtime employee John Kostyack, who was serving as vice president of wildlife conservation. Kostyack in August was named executive director of the Wind Energy Foundation, a nonprofit industry-funded group that promotes public awareness of wind as a clean energy source and supports research.

Last October brought two other high-level departures: Ann Morgan, who had led NWF’s regional office in Boulder, Colo., since February 2012, and Anthony Caligiuri, senior vice president for conservation and education at NWF headquarters. Caligiuri now leads Colorado Open Lands, a land trust based in Denver.

NWF also laid off its chief financial officer, Dulce Gomez-Zormelo.

The group is in the process of selling its Reston, Va., headquarters and plans to integrate operations with its National Advocacy Center at 1990 K St. NW in Washington, D.C., O’Mara said. In recent months, it moved its Rocky Mountain office from Boulder to downtown Denver a few blocks from the statehouse. The move aimed to cut costs but also to get closer to NWF’s state and federal partners, he said.

O’Mara’s overhaul has parallels to his work in Delaware, where he was credited with engineering one of the first significant revamps of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control since 1972, a move aimed at boosting efficiencies during lean economic times.

“My model in Delaware is you cut as deeply as you need to have a balanced budget, but not at the expense of core competencies,” he said.

‘We are delighted’

Bruce Wallace, the incoming chairman of NWF’s board, said the terrain is “rapidly changing” for environmental nonprofits — with new funding challenges and political polarization gripping the U.S. Capitol. He said O’Mara has navigated those challenges with aplomb, having faced a similar organizational challenge in Delaware.

He credited O’Mara for leveraging NWF’s regional offices, state affiliates and geographic spread.

“We are delighted” with O’Mara’s work, Wallace said. “We are stable and growing at a time when the country could not need us more.”

While NWF lost some federal capacity in climate change, it has increased its ability to address the issue at the state level, O’Mara said. He said NWF will have more “boots on the ground” to support compliance with U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which will mandate that states reduce emissions of global warming gases 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

In part, O’Mara is returning NWF to its roots.

The organization was founded in 1936 by Iowa cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, a waterfowl hunter who was appointed in 1934 to lead the U.S. Biological Survey, now known as the Fish and Wildlife Service. Darling designed the first duck stamp, a federal permit to hunt waterfowl that has funded the purchase or leasing of more than 6 million acres of wetlands habitat.

In that era, wildlife lacked a national constituency to prod lawmakers to support conservation funding and policies, Darling warned in one cartoon. In 1936, at Darling’s urging, President Franklin Roosevelt invited thousands to Washington’s Mayflower Hotel for the first North American Wildlife Conference. The goal, according to Roosevelt, was to “bring together individuals, organizations and agencies interested in the restoration and conservation of wildlife resources.”

The conference resulted in the creation of the General Wildlife Federation — later called the National Wildlife Federation — and Darling was its first president. Today, NWF calls itself the nation’s “largest big tent conservation federation.”

O’Mara said the organization is returning to its hook-and-bullet base, even as it continues to advocate for members including bird lovers and gardeners. On Feb. 24, O’Mara spoke to the Garden Club of America about the threats facing pollinators and the importance of backyard habitat.

“We all agree we need wildlife funding, we need protections of the Endangered Species Act, protections of the Antiquities Act,” O’Mara said. “We’re trying to find that commonality and put that original coalition back together.”

Preaching climate change through wildlife

Wildlife has helped NWF bring attention to climate threats, he said.

“If it’s just carbon, it doesn’t span all those groups,” he said. “It’s a different kind of center of gravity, or rallying cry for what the organization is. That doesn’t mean we’re stepping back from climate in any kind of way. But it means it’s through a lens of wildlife, and local impacts on wildlife and not just global issues.”

Rather than talk about polar bears and puffins, glacial ice melt, or the Maldives being subsumed by rising seas, NWF is tailoring its message to how climate change will affect moose in New Hampshire, mule deer migration in Colorado and the temperature of trout streams.

“You can build a much more bipartisan coalition by focusing on the wildlife impacts than you can if you’re just focused on the man-made question,” O’Mara said. “It’s a very different kind of debate.”

The wildlife message has resonated particularly with Republicans who may be less swayed by academic warnings about climate change, which can sound abstract, O’Mara said. Showing the impacts “to someone’s backyard,” he said, “it’s easier to foster conversations on global warming solutions.

O’Mara, who graduated in 1997 from West Genesee High School outside Syracuse, N.Y., where he was class salutatorian and played baseball and basketball, has supported both Republicans and Democrats.

He took a break from Dartmouth College to serve as a staffer for former Rep. James Walsh, a Republican from central New York. As class president at Dartmouth, O’Mara organized hundreds of students in support of Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) first presidential bid, and was later named McCain’s youth coordinator for New Hampshire.

O’Mara would later serve as executive director of the Onondaga County Democratic Committee. In 2012, while he was secretary of environment in Delaware, he donated to President Obama’s re-election campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.

NWF’s political action committee in 2010 spent $22,000 — all on Democratic candidates. But in 2014, it spent $15,000 on Democrats and $6,000 on Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

O’Mara said NWF’s priorities moving forward will be to preserve “big landscapes” that host species like bison and bighorn sheep, while defending public lands against state takeover bids.

NWF will continue to support dedicated funding for wildlife both in Congress and in states such as Missouri, where some lawmakers have proposed undoing a dedicated sales tax for conservation, O’Mara said.

Another major effort will be to preserve major waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware River and Mississippi River Delta.

NWF will also redouble its efforts to connect Americans to nature through existing programs like eco-schools and backyard habitats, O’Mara said.

It recently signed a partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service to save the imperiled monarch butterfly, whose population has plunged 90 percent in the past 20 years. NWF’s role will be to inform the public about the importance of milkweed to monarchs and promote its planting across the United States (E&ENews PM, Feb. 9).

‘Richard Louv-style connection’

Youth engagement will be a signature campaign, O’Mara added.

Many of today’s parents grew up on video games and can’t be counted on to get their kids outdoors, O’Mara said. A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Americans between ages 8 and 18 spend about 7.5 hours a day in front of some electronic device.

While kids know to turn off lights and recycle, they typically prefer to sit in front of a computer than play in a stream, O’Mara said.

“Kids are doing sustainable things, but it’s not connected to nature,” he said. “We need to have that Richard Louv-style connection to nature.”

Louv is the author of the 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.”

Key to those efforts will be NWF’s partnerships with the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and state and county parks, O’Mara said. NWF is also urging schools to incorporate outdoor learning into biology, chemistry and physics classes.

NWF worked behind the scenes on the White House’s “Every Kid in a Park” initiative, which was unveiled last month to give all fourth-grade students and their families free admission to national parks during the next school year. By NWF’s estimate, the more time kids spend in nature, the more they’ll become attached to it.

NWF also hosts more than 3,000 eco-schools in the United States, where it supports “‘green’ management of the school grounds, the facilities and the curriculum.” Roughly 4,400 schools have certified NWF habitats. It reaches younger kids through its Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr. magazines, which have a combined circulation of 625,000.

“We just have to make it easy enough for parents and schools and at the same time attractive enough for kids that it’s worth putting down the iPad,” O’Mara said.

O’Mara was in Denver last week to announce a partnership with FWS to help students build wildlife habitats in their schoolyards that mirror local ecosystems. Two Denver schools will partner with employees at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge north of the city to build habitats that support pollinators, migratory birds and wildlife.

NWF sees the program as an investment in kids’ health, intellectual development and happiness, in addition to recruiting a new generation of conservationists.

Morale at NWF has improved considerably since staff layoffs concluded last August, according to one former NWF employee. O’Mara is credited with having an open door policy and inviting constructive criticism from staff.

The organization has stayed financially solvent thanks to its endowment, which totaled $54 million in mid-2013. But the endowment suffered as a result of NWF’s recent financial woes.

The group has yet to file its financial 990 form for the year ending August 2014.

“The budget is balanced, revenues are up, staffing is probably stronger in the field than probably any time in 30 years,” O’Mara said. “We’re showing strength. We’re showing how we can mobilize a conservation army in a way that nobody else can. If we can do that consistently and efficiently across the entire country, our best days are definitely ahead.”