Looking Forward for Wildlife

As we head into the holiday season, I want to thank each of you for your tireless efforts over the past year on behalf of our wildlife and natural resources. In this time of extreme polarization, we are showing that some things can still be nonpartisan and that we can still accomplish big things as a nation. As a friend of mine says, there’s no such thing as a Republican whitetail deer or a Democrat cutthroat trout.

Across the entire National Wildlife Federation family, we are proving that progress is possible—even during difficult political times. Look no further than what we were able to achieve in 2016 by working together:

Progress in Congress

We achieved three landmark bipartisan victories in Congress: the reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act to prevent unsafe chemicals from contaminating our natural resources; the Water Resources Development Act to fix Flint’s water infrastructure and help restore the Great Lakes, Everglades, Delaware River Basin, Los Angeles River, among others; and the Every Student Succeeds Act, which authorizes $1.65 billion in funding for STEM, including environmental education for the first time. While we came up short on legislation to address the raging forest fires, increase opportunities for sportsmen and women, and reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, we’re not giving up the fight.

Meaningful Partnerships

bison run
Bison run at Wind River. Photo by Judi Kohler/NWF

We partnered with the Eastern Shoshone Tribe to re-introduce bison onto the Wind River Reservation for the first time in 130 years. We expanded habitat for bighorn sheep and bison. We worked with landowners to recover sage grouse, came many steps closer to connecting mountain lion habitat in Los Angeles, and partnered with 245 mayors to help save Monarch butterflies. We defeated projects that threatened the idyllic Boundary Waters and the Great Plains of Montana, not to mention our work on stop a project that would destroy wetlands and communities along the Mississippi River. Together, we worked with the Obama Administration to secure a science-based restoration plan for the Gulf of Mexico and new National Monument designations in Hawaii (Papahānaumokuākea), Maine (Katahdin Woods and Water), and off the Atlantic coast (Northeast Canyons and Seamounts)—and our work continues on the Grand Canyon.

Our Federation helped launch America’s offshore wind industry with the nation’s first project in Rhode Island and historic energy legislation in Massachusetts. We helped pass a measure for dedicated-conservation funding in Missouri. And in Oregon, voters passed an anti-wildlife trafficking ballot measure. We also helped defeat a bad ballot measure in Oklahoma that would have deregulated farming. As if all that didn’t keep us busy enough, we certified our 200,000th wildlife habitat, expanded NWF education programs into our 10,000th school, refreshed National Wildlife magazine, and launched a new kid’s publication, Ranger Rick Cub!

bee on aster
Bee on aster. NWF staff photo

These victories were only possible because of great teamwork across all departments and with our Affiliate partners.  We collaborated with partners across the country as One Federation family, while always remaining laser-focused on advancing our mission (“uniting all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world”), staying true to our core conservation values (defined in our “We Believe” statement), and conducting our work in a thoughtful, nonpartisan way, rooted in sound-science. Our diverse conservation army of millions of hunters, anglers, birders, gardeners, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts from all walks of life, political affiliations, races, faiths, sexual orientations, and many others, makes us different from other institutions. I am proud of the way we do our work and the meaningful relationships we develop. We do not demonize those with whom we disagree or question their character or motives.

Uniting for Conservation

We are collaborative, mission-focused, nonpartisan, and science-based. And that pragmatic approach is going to be more important than ever as we prepare for an uncertain future with the incoming Trump Administration. As always, we must remain ever vigilant to defend against efforts to weaken bedrock environmental statutes, remove protections for public health and natural resources, or undo climate action. At the same time, we may have allies within the administration, like Secretary of Interior nominee Rep. Ryan Zinke, on priorities like public lands, conservation funding, natural infrastructure, recreational access, and reforming harmful subsidies and mandates.

Wildlife like moose live in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Photo by ©Mark Picard
Wildlife like moose live in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Photo © Mark Picard

Some groups might choose a blanket opposition strategy. Not the National Wildlife Federation. The wildlife and natural resources that we care about cannot afford years of inaction – not when thousands of wildlife species are at-risk of extinction, waterways across our nation are unsafe to fish or swim, and raging wildfires decimate our forests. Not when we lose millions of acres to agriculture and development, when public trust resources are under threat of privatization, and when millions of kids need environmental education. These challenges are neither Republican, nor Democratic issues; they are simply realities, and we need both parties to come together as Americans to address them.

There will, of course, be many times where fighting back is necessary, but if we are going to achieve our strategic vision of increasing wildlife populations, we must make steady progress protecting, restoring, and connecting healthy habitat; reconnecting Americans with wildlife; and confronting systemic threats like climate change, even when the politics are difficult. I am confident if we are guided by our mission and core values, if we commit to ensuring collaboration is our brand, if we remain non-partisan and science-based, and if we are relentlessly pragmatic in our efforts make forward progress, we will shock people with the results.  This is our North Star going forward.

In fact, I believe that conservation of wildlife and natural resources offers the greatest opportunity to bring together Americans of different political persuasions, regions, and backgrounds to strengthen our economy. This is essential because too many of our fellow Americans struggle to put food on the table and feel anxious about the future. Conservation is obviously not the entire answer, but ensuring healthy, well-managed natural resources will help strengthen local economies by supporting well-paying jobs, improving student achievement, and reducing healthcare costs. America’s public trust resources belong to all of us, regardless of birth or income. Attempts to degrade or reduce access to them violates our fundamental democratic principles—and through restoration and sustainable, wise use of our resources, we may find solutions to some of our nation’s most intractable challenges.

Building on Our Legacy

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Jenyfra Nelson

I know we can advance our goals, while also defeating harmful measures, because we’ve done it throughout our history. We worked with President Nixon to create the Environmental Protection Agency, while also whipping votes to override his initial veto of the Clean Water Act. We worked with President Reagan to protect the ozone layer, while also leading the charge to replace members of his Cabinet.  Going forward, we will collaborate where progress is possible for recovering wildlife, reforming wildlife-harming mandates like the renewable fuel standard and flood insurance, restoring forests and water resources, bolstering natural defenses, accelerating clean energy/climate solutions, and we will defend foundational statutes like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and many more.

It has never been more important for us to be good at what we do and our successes are not possible without every member of our One Federation family. Thank you for your many contributions.  As you’re enjoying this holiday season, I hope you’ll relax and take stock of all of the great success that we’ve enjoyed and charge your batteries so we can redouble our efforts for wildlife come January!

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