Throughout its 20 years, WildEarth Guardians (formerly Forest Guardians) has grown into a nationally respected environmental organization. Its Wild Places Program director, Bryan Bird, answered SFR’s eco-questions in advance of the organization’s anniversary gala, held this year at 6:30 pm, Sept. 25 at Bishop’s Lodge, 1297 Bishops Lodge Road. Cost is $100 per person.
SFR: Tell me about your work with WildEarth Guardians.
BB: I started in 1996, challenging logging in our national forests in New Mexico. Recently, I’ve become the director of the Wild Places Program, which seeks to protect and restore biodiversity in the West, in particular the southern Rockies and Gila region in southwest New Mexico.
You’re not talking strapping yourself to a tree or anything? Or are you?
In the very early days of Guardians, some of us undertook those types of tactics, but these days we utilize bedrock American environmental laws and harness the power of the community to either challenge projects that are going to be destructive to the environment or to promote actions that will help with environment recovery and resiliency.
What animal needs the most attention?
Certainly, the most persecuted and high-profile animal is the Mexican wolf or lobo. It’s on the brink of extinction, and one of our primary campaigns is to ensure that the wolves can be prolific in the Gila and basically live by their own means.
Let’s go from big beasts to tiny critters. Have Santa Fe’s prairie-dog people gone too far?
Well, no. What some of the prairie-doggers of Santa Fe are doing is providing a life-support system for this keystone animal. We’re actually trying to establish a Prairie Dog Day, rather than a Groundhog Day.
Conservation Voters New Mexico recently released an environmental scorecard critical of the New Mexico Legislature. How does WildEarth feel about the state’s conservation efforts?
Richardson has directed his cabinet secretaries to do all they can to move this state to renewable energy and to erect restoration projects across the state to improve water quality and wildlife habitat. While the Richardson administration has been a friend of the environment, the Legislature has few friends of the environment right now.
Does that mean it has a load of friends to the mining and oil industries?
I don’t want to point fingers, but there are certainly industries that have been powerful in our state for decades, if not centuries. I think our Legislature has to see that change is inevitable.
Speaking of ‘change,’ how are things under Obama?
We continue to hold out hope. I will say this: The administration has taken some very significant steps towards preventing irreversible climate change and moving our country to renewable energy. They have reversed some of the worst of Bush’s forest policies. But, the under-enforcement of the Endangered Species Act has certainly been a disappointment. The Obama administration has simply not stepped up to the plate.
As a nonprofit organization, how are you faring in these economic times?
We’re holding steady. Many, many organizations over the last decade have become dependent on foundations, whereas we were actively seeking to shift that weight toward our individual members. That’s not say we’re not tightening out belts around here…but our mission is not in jeopardy.
So, you’re not about to announce, ‘OK, prairie dogs, y’all are cut off.’
No, we won’t do that. We’ve gone through harder times—in the ’90s we would be asked to work for weeks, sometimes a month, without pay. But what’s fun about us is that we came from grassroots, unpaid activism and that culture has stayed with us.