An open letter from Defenders’ program directors
Dear Fellow Defenders,
Thanks to your unwavering support, Defenders of Wildlife is able to work every day to protect and recover hundreds of imperiled species in every imaginable habitat across the country – from wolves and grizzlies to manatees, sea otters and the sprightly sage-grouse.
Our public lands – refuges, forests, parks and more – provide us with so much. They serve as strongholds for wildlife and are critical to their survival. They help protect sources of clean drinking water, and provide all kinds of opportunities for having fun in the great outdoors.
Starting in 1864, our nation’s leaders set aside scenic landscapes across our nation to protect our wildlife and to give Americans natural places to recreate and take a break from daily life. No other country in the world has preserved more land for the use and enjoyment of its people than the United States.
This year, the very notion of public lands has come under attack, much to the astonishment and revulsion of a majority of Americans. Starting with the illegal standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, those who seek to claim our public lands and resources for themselves have now taken their fight to local government and state and national legislatures. Thanks to your support, these thoughtless and selfish acts have been met with staunch and unrelenting opposition.
In gratitude to our members and supporters, we want to take a moment to highlight our favorite public lands where we work and what they mean to us.
“One of my favorite places is the Arctic Ocean and coast of Alaska, which borders the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Walking along the Arctic Ocean you will see polar bears lounging on nearby barrier islands, snowy owls, and Arctic foxes, just to name a few. I admire the resiliency of the people and the wildlife that live in that sea-ice-ocean-land interface, and I work every day to ensure that animals and people can continue to coexist as they face and work to adapt to a rapidly changing climate.”
— Karla Dutton, Alaska Program Director
“Joshua Tree National Park is tucked away in the California Desert, in between the hotter Colorado Desert and the cooler Mojave Desert. People visit Joshua Tree to see its iconic namesake – the eerie Joshua Trees – and to enjoy its colorful desert landscape. One of my favorite things to do when I visit Joshua Tree National Park before dawn is to drive to the Cholla Cactus Garden and walk through the vast stretches of Cholla cactus as the sun rises over the pink and red desert boulders and the birds sing their morning song. Joshua Tree is home to the threatened desert tortoise, desert bighorn sheep, golden eagles, and numerous reptiles. With President Obama’s recent designation of three new California desert monuments, more iconic California desert lands will enjoy similar protections. That isn’t just a win for wildlife, but also for all those who love the California Desert.”
— Kim Delfino, California Program Director
“The Olympic peninsula in Washington state holds a special spot in my heart. From glacier-carved mountain peaks, to moss-draped old growth forests to rugged coastlines, this remote corner of the state includes the nearly one million acres of Olympic National Park, as well as an additional 630,000 acres of surrounding national forest lands. It is home to many of the region’s most imperiled species that Defenders is working to protect, from marbled murrelets and northern spotted owls inhabiting its forests, to southern resident orcas feeding just offshore of its numerous rivers. Flowing out of the heart of Olympic National Park, the Elwha River is a particularly amazing place. Site of one of the largest ecosystem restoration projects in the country, today the Elwha supports recovering populations of all five species of pacific salmon as well as steelhead and bull trout.”
— Shawn Cantrell, Northwest Program Director
Rockies and Plains
“North of Yellowstone National Park lies a place very important to me and many others: the 3.1 million-acre Custer Gallatin National Forest. The area is so vast it includes several mountain ranges: the Absarokas, the Beartooth Plateau, the Crazies, the Gallatins, the Pryors and the Spanish Peaks. I spent much of my 20s in these mountains and valleys working as a wilderness ranger and was fortunate to witness the return of wolves, the ongoing natural expansion of grizzlies, and the incredible abundance of elk and many other species. Now we can add to that list wild bison, which are finally allowed to reoccupy some of these public lands bordering Yellowstone National Park, thanks to recent policy changes. The future is bright for the wildlife of these lands and people who live near them, so long as the land belongs to us all!”
— Jonathan Proctor, Rockies & Plains Program Director
“The Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests of Western North Carolina are truly remarkable. You can explore a dizzying array of wildlife — from cool mountain streams teeming with fish, mussels, and salamanders, to deep forests where black bears roam and migratory song birds sing their songs. I’ve spent countless hours trekking across these mountains, and in a few weeks, I’ll be sharing these places with the next generation, as we all embark on a 30-mile backpacking trip. Defenders works to protect these scenic landscapes so that young people and future generations can enjoy them and be inspired by the wildlife they encounter.”
— Ben Prater, Southeast Program Director
“When I hear the howl of the Mexican gray wolf pierce the night sky above the Gila National Forest in southwest New Mexico, I rejoin this vast, wild landscape. Close to 100 wolves roam an area twice the size of Yellowstone that is mostly our public lands. One can wander in the Gila National Forest for days without seeing another human, following the river to its source and sleeping under skies so starry you could reach out and grab a handful. Defenders works every day in the Southwest to ensure these wolves have habitat to call home and humans can coexist with this rare animal.”
— Bryan Bird, Southwest Program Director
We love our public lands, and it is a privilege to lead our teams across the country in protecting these invaluable areas for wildlife and future generations to enjoy.
We know we could not do any of our work without you. Thank you for your support for all of our work across the country. It’s because of you that we are able to protect so many of our native species, and ensure that future generations have the opportunity to experience the natural wonders our nation has to offer.