Yaron Miller, Director of National Outreach
Wow – what an incredible couple of days! Last week over 30 Defenders’ citizen advocates flew to Washington, D.C. to ask Congress to speed the recovery of endangered wildlife, and to kick off our exciting new grassroots campaign “Conservation Crossroads: Extinction or Recovery?” And what a kick off it was!
Advocates from across the country, from California and Montana to Florida and New York, arrived at Defenders’ headquarters for a day of lobby training and a legislative briefing by our talented Government Relations team. The room was buzzing as folks swapped advice, shared information, and related to one another why they made the trip to D.C. It was clear that each participant had a unique background and story to tell their elected leaders about the importance of recovering endangered wildlife.
We had members of the military, including a retired Marine Corps Lt. General, a Marine veteran, and an active duty CA Air National Guardsman, who talked about protecting endangered species on military bases, emphasizing that defending our way of life includes wildlife. We had two priests from Arizona and New Mexico and a wildlife enthusiast who started an environmental lecture series in her church speak about the need to be good stewards of God’s planet. And we had educators, wildlife photographers, writers, and health care professionals – folks who could be our neighbors – speak about why protecting and recovering endangered wildlife is a value shared by all Americans, regardless of political party.
Equipped with printed materials and important conservation messages, we headed to Capitol Hill to ask our elected officials for two things: 1) to provide increased funding for key wildlife management agencies to accelerate the recovery of endangered species, and 2) to vote against any attempts to weaken the Endangered Species Act, a law that has seen a 99% success rate in preventing extinctions.
We met with legislators of both parties to educate and encourage them to support wildlife recovery, especially those freshmen who were just recently elected six months ago. While some of our meetings were to thank our greatest champions for wildlife recovery, such as Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Representative Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), we also met with legislators who do not always vote consistently on behalf of endangered wildlife. Those meetings are especially important, and having constituents speak directly to their members of Congress and key staff members makes a profound impact. Legislators take their direction on what issues to focus on and how to vote from constituent input – especially when the constituent has flown across the country for the meeting! And while face-to-face meetings are the most direct way to share the pulse of the district with members of Congress, there are many ways to let your voice be heard.
Once our marathon day of 70+ meetings was over, our weary but empowered group of citizen advocates gathered with volunteers, congressional staff, and other guests to recap the day and celebrate 40 years of the Endangered Species Act. We were joined by some long-time friends of wildlife: Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Jim Moran (D-VA), Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and one of the original authors of the Endangered Species Act and Dean of the U.S. House of Representatives Rep. John Dingell (D-MI). Each of them spoke to the crowd about the tremendous successes the Endangered Species Act has spurred, and the importance of protecting it against legislative attempts to undermine it. Hopefully the rest of Congress will heed their call!
After inspiring words from these notable legislators, the reception moved outside to greet our guest of honor: Atka, the ambassador Arctic wolf from the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) in New York! Joined by Maggie Howell and Rebecca Bose of the WCC, we learned all about arctic wolves, how they survive in such harsh conditions, and why Atka was so excited to roll in perfume sprayed on the grass (so he can share the smell with his pack back home and cloak his scent from prey!). We tried our best to make Atka howl, but I think he was more interested in lounging in the sun. Many thanks to the men and women of the Capitol Police Department and Sergeant-at-Arms office for making Atka’s visit possible!
Although this Congressional lobby day is over, the campaign is just beginning. In the coming weeks and months, we will need as many concerned citizens as possible to help support the recovery of endangered species. If you’re interested in joining our stellar team of citizen advocates at home or during our next Capitol Hill grassroots lobby day take a minute to sign up and join our campaign today and become part of our growing team. There are many ways to get involved at home or in DC: letters to the editor, meetings with your elected leaders in your district, writing and calling Congress, and many more. I hope we’ll hear from you soon!