December 27, 2023
Allison Cook

There’s no better way to end 2023 than to look back on key victories and hard work accomplished throughout the year. Defenders of Wildlife’s California field experts had a lot to celebrate and here are their top 10 highlights!

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Four members of Defenders' California team (Andy Johnson, Sophia Markowaska, Ashley Overhouse and Pamela Flick) stand in front of water during their Carrizo Plain staff gathering in April 2023.
Four Defenders' California field experts attended a staff gathering at Carrizo Plain National Monument in April 2023. From left to right: Andy Johnson, Sophia Markowaska, Ashley Overhouse and Pamela Flick.

1. California Commits to a Biodiverse Future 

In October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed State Senate Bill 337 into law. This measure, sponsored by Defenders, commits the state to conserving 30% of state land and coastal waters by 2030 — also known as 30x30 — into future administrations. The law stemmed from Newsom’s October 2020 Executive Order N-82-20 to combat biodiversity loss and the climate crisis. 

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2020 - Mohave Ground Squirrel - Philip Leitner-USGS.jpg
2020 - Mohave Ground Squirrel - Philip Leitner-USGS.jpg

2. Federal Protections Sought for the Mohave Ground Squirrel  

Led by Defenders’ Senior California Representative Jeff Aardahl, the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee, Mohave Ground Squirrel Conservation Council and Dr. Philip Leitner submitted a petition to list the Mohave ground squirrel as threatened and designate critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act. As Aardahl noted, this species “is on course to lose more than half its remaining habitat in less than a decade unless the federal government steps in to change its course.” 

3. California Water Policy Advisor Honored as Next Generation Leader 

In June, Defenders’ Water Policy Advisor Ashley Overhouse was honored with Restore the Delta’s Next Generation Leadership Award for her exemplary work advocating for wildlife and healthy waterways in California’s complex and challenging water policy world, including the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta. 

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Southern sea otter looking straight at camera floating In the water on back
Justin Grubb/ Running Wild Media

4. Conceptual Sea Otter Reintroduction Plan Presented 

During Sea Otter Awareness Week 2023 in September, California Representative Andy Johnson led a public conversation about Defenders’ contributions to a conceptual southern sea otter reintroduction plan that would potentially bring this species back to parts of the northern California and Oregon coast where they once lived but are no longer present. Their reintroduction would restore a missing link to the coastal ecology of this region. 

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Doty Ravine Beaver Field Trip Event
Pamela Flick

5. Doty Ravine Showcases Coexistence with Beavers 

The floodplain restoration at Doty Ravine was made possible by an unlikely partnership: people and beavers. In May, Defenders’ California Program Director Pamela Flick and Senior California Representative Sophia Markowska joined over 50 individuals from California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Natural Resources Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, elected officials and others for a spectacular educational event at Doty Ravine led by the California Beaver Policy Working Group, of which Defenders is a member. 

6. New Gray Wolf Pack Discovered in Southern Sierra Nevada 

CDFW confirmed in August the state’s newest wolf pack in Tulare County, 200 miles from other known wolves! In December, this wolf family — now recognized to consist of the breeding pair and six pups — was dubbed the Yowlumni Pack, a reference to the cultural significance of these wolves to the local Indigenous Tribe of Tule River Yokuts. CDFW also successfully captured and collared the adult female to collect information about the pack’s home range, habitat use and more.  

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Avi Kwa Ame
Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

7. Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area Celebrated its 50th Anniversary 

Located in the western Mojave Desert and established for the protection of the species, the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area covers nearly 40 square miles of prime desert tortoise habitat. Here, desert tortoises are on the rebound, which is unfortunately not the case for other populations across their range. 

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CA Spotted Owl
Rick Kuyper/USFWS

8. California Spotted Owl Gets Endangered Species Act Protections 

USFWS announced in February it will protect the California spotted owl under the ESA. Logging and climate change, among other threats, have caused spotted owl numbers to dwindle for decades. 

9. Southern Sea Otter Retains ESA Protections 

In September, USFWS issued its finding that the southern sea otter will retain its threatened status under the ESA. The threats these sea otters and their ecosystems face are getting worse, not better, according to Andy. 

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Yosemite National Park

10. Rare Wolverine Spotted in the Eastern Sierra Nevada 

A wolverine was caught on camera multiple times in the eastern Sierra Nevada in May. CDFW assessed three separate video and photo submissions and believes the recordings are of the same animal. This is only the second wolverine detected in California since the 1920s. It’s truly remarkable that another native apex species is attempting to make its way back to the state on its own! Further, in late November, USFWS announced the listing of wolverines in the lower 48 as threatened under the ESA, providing new legal protections for this rare and elusive species.

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Four members of Defenders' California team plus two consultants (Andy Johnson, Ashley Overhouse, Jeff Aardahl, Kate Kelly, Kim Delfino, Pam Flick) stand on a beach for a group photo during their program retreat in September 2023.
Four members of Defenders' California team and two consultants met in-person for a program retreat in September 2023. From left to right: Andy Johnson, Ashley Overhouse, Jeff Aardahl, consultant Kate Kelly, consultant Kim Delfino and Pamela Flick.

Author(s)

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A Cook Headshot

Allison Cook

Content Writer

Areas of Expertise: Communications, writing for the blog and website

Allison joined Defenders of Wildlife in 2023 after working for Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation

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