The people at Defenders of Wildlife have been a great resource for us from a very early stage of “What You Can Do.” This organization has been around since 1947 (when it was known as Defenders of Furbearers) and is still thriving. Read below to find out more about the issue of wildlife extinction and what you can do about it!
Interview with Cindy Hoffman, Vice President of Communications for Defenders of Wildlife
1. What is the single most important thing you would want to impart to someone about the threat of wildlife extinction?
It would certainly be that we are all connected. People are intrinsically tied to Mother Nature and what happens to our planet and its vast resources will impact all of us. So, it is critical that we protect our planet, not just for wildlife, but for us! We only have one planet. Let’s treat it with care.
2. What do you think is the biggest myth about threats to wildlife?
I would say that the biggest myth is the belief that we can’t address threats to wildlife and the environment without hurting ourselves economically. Protecting the environment does benefit us economically and there is no reason why we have to choose between protecting natural resources and promoting a healthy and thriving economy. In fact, they go hand in hand!
3. Domestically, what species do you believe is the most at risk?
Unfortunately it is hard to pick just one. There are a number of species that are near the brink of extinction in our country today. Examples that come to mind are the Mexican gray wolf, the Florida panther and the black footed ferret. Thankfully, there are heroic efforts underway to recover each of these species and with persistence and due diligence, we can bring them back from the brink of extinction.
The Mexican wolf is the most endangered wolf in our country. It was once wiped out entirely from the southwestern United States. But in March 1998, 34 wolves were released back into the wild in southeastern Arizona. The goal of the reintroduction program was to restore at least 100 wolves to the wild by 2008. Unfortunately, a recent survey conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service found only 42 wolves and just two breeding pairs in the wild: a 20 percent decline from the previous year. Clearly, Mexican wolves are in big trouble. With numbers so perilously low, every single wolf in the wild counts toward the animal’s survival. We are pressing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to craft a science-based recovery plan that pays careful attention to the genetic issues posed by having such a small wild population. Defenders is also working with ranchers and the Fish and Wildlife Service to keep wolves on the ground by promoting proactive, non-lethal efforts to keep wolves away from livestock.
The Florida panther is another species struggling to survive. Considered one of the most endangered mammals on earth, it is estimated that there are fewer than 100 panthers in Florida today. These amazing animals are threatened by the loss of habitat to human development, and inbreeding due to their small population. Defenders of Wildlife is working with Florida landowners and developers to ensure that important panther habitat is saved, and to safeguard corridors that allow the panthers to travel through Florida’s remaining wild lands to find food and mates.
Another species, the black-footed ferret is also in great danger. It used to live comfortably within hundreds of prairie dog colonies across the Great Plains in 12 states. But aggressive efforts to eradicate prairie dogs – considered competitors for grasslands by many ranchers – also nearly wiped out the black-footed ferret. As prairie dogs were shot and poisoned, ferrets also paid the price. Eventually, it was thought the black-footed ferret was extinct.
Then one day, a Wyoming farm dog found a ferret and brought it home with him. Thanks to that discovery, a successful captive-breeding program was initiated in 1987 and continues to this day. The big caveat is this: we will have to be good to our prairie dog colonies to successfully recover the black-footed ferret. And that’s a big hurdle to jump for some in the ranching community.
4. What has been the most surprising thing you’ve experienced in working with Defenders of Wildlife?
I guess I would have to say the commitment of our members and activists to conservation. Our folks are passionate about wildlife and it shows, from the number of people that respond to our action alerts, to the great pictures and stories our members send us, to the active dialogue we see on Twitter and our Facebook pages on the issues we care about most. That support is steadfast.
5. In light of all of the harrowing statistics out there, do you believe there is still hope for threatened species?
The day I lose hope is the day I quit my job! Conserving the wildlife and wonderful places they call home is certainly a calling for me. The challenges wildlife face, including habitat loss and global warming sometimes seem overwhelming. But with each challenge there is a story of hope. For instance, Defenders is working with ranchers out west to provide them with the tools they need to ranch in wolf country. We are working with developers in Florida to provide a wildlife corridor for panthers to safely travel throughout the state. This corridor will help panthers as well as other wildlife that depends on the same habitat.
Defenders is working with solar and other renewable energy companies to guide them in making their projects both clean and green. And green has to include ensuring that wildlife continue to have a place to call home, even as we expand into solar, wind and other diverse energy sources on our lands. These are just some of the many examples of stories that give me hope for the future of wildlife in our country.
6. What would you advise someone if they wanted to get more involved in combating wildlife extinction?
Here at Defenders of Wildlife, there are a lot of things you can do to help conserve wildlife. Of course, you can become a member, which will help support all of the important work we do at Defenders. If you want to get your hands dirty, you can participate in our Wildlife Volunteer Corps. Our volunteers work on unique projects to protect, monitor and recover endangered and imperiled wildlife and the habitats and ecosystems they need to survive.
You can also sign up for our action alerts. We’ll let you know when there are important conservation issues to engage on. And with hundreds of thousands of activists on our list, we really make things happen. You can be a part of our efforts, and help save wildlife across America.
If you’d like more information on how you can get involved, visit: defenders.org.