While the country continues to struggle with how to best ride out the COVID-19 pandemic by slowing down our daily pace and limiting social interactions outside the home, reports of some wild animals getting a temporary break from human intrusions have provided some positive news.
Still, the pandemic has not stopped the overarching threats to imperiled species or attempts to roll back environmental protections. That’s why even though Defenders’ physical offices remain closed out of an abundance of caution for the health of staff, Defenders’ prevention, protection and restoration work continues—with a few adjustments.
Here’s a sampling:
- Instead of coming to Washington for Defenders’ annual lobby day, wildlife advocates from seven states came together virtually in April to stand up for imperiled species, the laws that keep them safe and the protection of biodiversity. After participating in webinars to prepare them, these constituents urged their federal delegation via scheduled video calls to support increased funding for the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in next year’s appropriations bill, to ensure that it is free from a rider that restricts the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from extending ESA protections to the imperiled sage-grouse, and to support passage of the PAW & FIN Conservation Act—legislation that would rescind the Trump administration’s damaging rollbacks to the ESA.
- Defenders’ electric fencing incentive program switched from on-site staff visits to video calls to help homeowners and landowners build electric fences to protect their orchards and livestock from bears.
- Even without face-to-face meetings, Defenders prevailed by virtually helping pass the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act in Florida in June. This act helps less affluent families qualify for farm loans, crop insurance and disaster aid so they can better manage their land and provide habitat for imperiled species like threatened gopher tortoises—whose burrows are used by over 350 other species, including endangered eastern indigo snakes.
- In the Northwest, Defenders staff are still delivering materials and making plans that include social distancing protocols for constructing more rain gardens to help protect the Salish Sea ecosystem and imperiled southern resident orcas. Stormwater runoff is the biggest source of toxins harming the orcas, and rain gardens—shallow, bowl-shaped landscapes full of native plants—collect and filter pollutants from the runoff before it enters the water.
- Every summer, Defenders joins a team of biologists that does population counts, health checks and vaccinations against sylvatic plague at active black-footed ferret reintroduction sites across the West. This year, the team is taking extra precautions to protect themselves and these gravely endangered animals that are also susceptible to COVID-19 by working in reduced numbers and wearing N95 masks and gloves whenever handling ferrets and equipment.
- Lastly, Defenders partnerships with community scientists to set up and monitor camera traps—an important part of keeping tabs on the size and location of populations—are still flourishing. One of the projects involves setting up camera traps in western Colorado—one of the largest remaining areas of unoccupied wolf habitat in the Rocky Mountain range—to help determine if wolves can return on their own or if they need help.
“The work of protecting wildlife must go on,” says Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders’ president and CEO. “We are a creative, resilient and dedicated bunch. We are adapting to this new reality by thinking a little more creatively and never forgetting how much species rely on us to help them survive.”
Photo: © Defenders of Wildlife