January 25, 2023
Kathleen S. Gobush, PhD

The Pacific Northwest of the U.S. holds many diverse landscapes, from the protected waters of the Salish Sea and the old growth forests of the Pacific Coast and Cascade Mountains, to the arid high deserts in the east. Dramatic landscapes abound, containing diverse marine and terrestrial wildlife including sea otters, southern resident orcas and other whales, large predators, like cougars, bears and wolves, plus old-growth forest associated marbled murrelets, Northern spotted owls and Pacific martens and fishers.

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Cascade Canyon - Grand Teton National Park - Wyoming
Stephen Williams

The region, like most, has an expanding human population and increasing footprint that overlaps with or otherwise impacts essential wildlife habitat, which often leads to human-wildlife encounters and conflicts. Toxic substances entering the Puget Sound through stormwater runoff and waste dumping continue to contaminate fragile freshwater and marine species. Forestry practices and their associated road construction continue to fragment landscapes and create barriers for the movements of animals. Climate change is increasing the risk of drought and catastrophic wildfires, and impacts the habitats many species need to survive. Defenders of Wildlife’s Northwest Program worked hard in 2022 to promote the region’s unique biodiversity in the face of these challenges. To do so, we capitalized on opportunities with partners to protect, restore and connect imperiled species and habitats. Here are just a few highlights of our work in 2022 on a few of our priority species:

Wolves

Wolves were wiped out in in the northwest by the early 20th century, but thanks to U.S. Endangered Species Act protections, they have been slowly reclaiming their historical range, with packs moving into Washington and Oregon from adjacent populations in Idaho, Montana and British Columbia. They now number over 300 individuals in the two states combined. In 2022, we continued to apply science-led conservation advocacy and action with the goal of promoting a thriving and functional wolf metapopulation that is tolerated across the region. We collaboratively held “Ranching with Wolves” workshops for local producers and land managers in both states. We conducted site visits with producers and decision-makers across the region to discuss conflict reduction strategies and provide support for applying best practices. In Oregon, we helped provide range riding support to multiple producers in an area with recurring livestock losses to wolves. Having a range rider on watch as a human presence near grazing cattle at the height of the season is one tool to reduce cattle losses to wolves, promoting human-wolf coexistence.

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Wolf Standing in the Road Near Artist Paint Pots - Yellowstone National Park - Wyoming
Jacob W. Frank/NPS

We also advocated for non-lethal predator management by state wildlife services and successfully opposed dangerous state bills related to a wolf compensation funding that lacked transparency and accountability, as well as a predator damage control district bill that would have been harmful to several imperiled carnivores, including wolves. We completed field testing of an updated radio-activated guard (RAG) box. This technology is now available after two years of collaborative development with a three-state team. Our research modeling habitat connectivity for an expanding wolf population in Washington is underway, and a collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington will help to ensure that our work is based on the best and most updated data and methods as possible.

Goals for 2023

This coming year, we will work to ensure that Oregon’s updated Wolf Plan supports recovery across their former range, is based on best-available science, applies a precautionary approach, and seeks to proactively reduce livestock conflict via non-lethal deterrents and appropriate grazing practices. We also plan to hold more “Ranching with Wolves” workshops, continue to advocate for non-lethal wolf management measures, ensure that livestock compensation facilitates wolf-human community coexistence, understand barriers to movement and threats, like poaching, and mitigate these where we can.

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Grizzly Bear Foraging for Berries - Bow Parkway - Canadian Rockies - Canada
Robyn Eldridge

Grizzly Bears  

The last grizzly bear in Oregon was killed in the 1930s. In Washington, a small population only remains in the Selkirk Mountains and near the Canadian border. Individuals of the species have not been sighted in the North Cascades in roughly 20 or 30 years. However, federal agencies are looking —again—to launch efforts to restore grizzly bears within their historical range. Over the past year, we have worked with partners to advocate the return of the grizzly bear to the North Cascade ecosystem and a resumption of the proactive process to make this a reality. Federal agencies publicized their intent to launch a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process to evaluate options for restoring and managing grizzly bears in the North Cascades. Defenders of Wildlife submitted extensive comments and emphasized the importance of fulfilling the government’s grizzly bear recovery responsibilities, as required by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and the need to ensure that bear management is humane and prioritizes non-lethal methods. We also successfully facilitated a 4th North Cascades Bear Awareness Workshop in Mount Vernon, Washington, with stakeholders attending from federal agencies, state commissions and relevant counties and cities.

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Grizzly Bear Family at the River - Gibbon River - Yellowstone National Park - Wyoming
Sam Parks

In the Selkirk ecosystem, we expanded our Electric Fencing Incentive Program by completing multiple fencing projects for landowners, including a hobby farm with chickens and bees, and a commercial vegetable garden. For both ecosystems, we held several community trainings on using bear spray—in order to encourage bear smart practices to prevent conflict.

Goals for 2023

In 2023, we will focus our efforts on shaping the North Cascades Grizzly Bear EIS, in collaboration with partners, as a part of the Friends of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear coalition. A high point will be our planned summit with diverse stakeholders in the summer to coordinate our work on the EIS and associated rules, seeking to proactively restore the species to the ecosystem in the near term. We also hope to launch a bear hazard assessment and new habitat connectivity research that further provides up-to-date information that supports this endeavor.

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Bear e-fence in Stevens County Washington
Zoe Hanley/DOW

For the Selkirk ecosystem, we will continue to promote and expand our Electric Fencing Incentive Program through bear-smart outreach events, local newspaper ads, and by completing a demonstration electric fence and with an educational sign in Pend Oreille County. We also plan to co-host a number of community events around Washington to promote bear-smart practices.

Southern Resident Orcas

Southern resident orcas, a unique population of killer whale that range the northwestern coastal waters of the U.S. and Canada, were nearly driven to extinction by commercial captures in the 1960s and 1970s. Their numbers are now further threatened by the decline of Pacific salmon, their primary prey. Today only 73 individuals remain. Defenders and its partners work to protect this beloved and critically endangered species by advocating for the urgent restoration of Pacific salmon and their habitats, as well as mitigating pollution, vessel traffic and other ongoing threats to the orcas’ survival.

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Southern Resident Orca Calf
Monika Wieland Shields

In 2022, Defenders and a large coalition of conservationists, Northwestern Tribes and other stakeholders achieved a critical milestone in a decades-long campaign to remove four federal dams on the lower Snake River that are driving salmon towards extinction. A detailed assessment commissioned by Washington State Governor Inslee and U.S. Senator Murray confirmed that the hydropower and other services provided by the dams can and must be replaced as soon as possible, paving the way for meaningful progress. Defenders stood in solidarity with the Nez Perce, Yakama, Lummi, Umatilla and other Northwest Tribes in their calls for dam removal during the Snake River to Salish Sea Spirit of the Waters Totem Pole Journey in May and the Salmon Orca Project’s DC rally in July.

Meanwhile, Defenders helped to secure $26.1 million in the Washington State Legislature for the restoration of critical salmon habitat and continued to build awareness about the plight of southern resident orcas through outreach events in Oregon, culminating with Governor Brown designating June 2022 as Orca Month in the state. The year concluded with a celebratory announcement of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to remove four dams on the Klamath River in Southern Oregon and Northern California—another key salmon run for the orcas.

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Coho Salmon Jumping - Oregon
BLM

Goals for 2023

In 2023, Defenders will continue to apply pressure on state and federal policymakers to take concrete steps towards replacing the services of the lower Snake River dams; advocate to increase vessel traffic buffers around the southern resident orcas; improve oil spill response and continue salmon habitat restoration projects in Washington State; and secure additional protection for the orcas in Oregon through a state endangered species listing.

Author(s)

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Kathleen Gobush

Kathleen S. Gobush, PhD

Northwest Program Director
As Northwest Program Director, Kathleen leads Defenders’ Northwest team in improving the plight of endangered species in the region. 
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