Sunday, February 26, 2017

Activist Toolkit: Your Guide to Defending Wildlands in the Trump Era

Image: Annette Bernhardt, flickr

[Ed: Some great tips here for Australian activists as well - adapt and adopt].

The Trump administration and its supporters in Congress are pushing one of the most dangerous pro-fossil fuel, anti-conservation agendas in modern history.

Americans must be prepared to defend our last unspoiled wildlands and protect our environment for future generations. This activism toolkit will help you get started.

The threats are numerous. The foes of conservation are many. But we can win if we unite around our shared passion and strength. So dig in and let’s get to work! 

Your guide to activism in the Trump era 

Environmental threats posed by Trump and Congress

The 2016 presidential election could prove catastrophic for America’s wild places, undoing the progress we’ve made to address climate change. Trump’s agenda is pro-polluter and pro-Big Oil. He has already issued numerous executive orders to roll back commonsense oil, gas and coal reforms and he’s filled important cabinet positions with anti-regulation climate change deniers.

At the same time, Congress is dominated by politicians bent on an anti-conservation, pro-fossil fuel agenda. Backed by oil money, the worst offenders are pushing massive roll backs of Obama’s energy reforms, as well as land giveaways to oil and gas, mining and other extractive industries. 

A few bad apples are even pressing to undo national monument protections for places like Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in Utah. The American people are now the last hope to stop Congress from implementing an agenda to sell out our environment to special interests. 

What’s working in our favor?

 The momentum is on our side. Protests across the nation and a storm of phone calls and social media targeting congressional offices is helping lawmakers see that Americans will not stand for attacks on our wildlands and environmental protections. Already, we’re gaining strength and winning battles. 

In the West, people have rallied in front of congressional offices to protest rollbacks of Obama-era energy reforms. Recreation industry leaders have decided to move their $45 million Outdoor Retailer show out of Utah in reaction to that state’s lobbying of Trump to undo the new Bears Ears National Monument. 

And a groundswell of phone calls recently persuaded anti-conservation Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to make the unusual move of withdrawing his own land grab bill. We also have numerous conservation champions in Congress and others who can be persuaded to do the right thing with enough public pressure.

Who needs to hear from you

In the past, American conservationists were able to accomplish a great deal through bipartisan efforts in Congress supported by the president and environmental agencies within the president’s cabinet, including the EPA, Forest Service, Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. 

Local communities were given a voice during public comment periods and listening sessions hosted by the administration, and Americans helped win new national monuments as well as greater protections for our shared public lands. 

Given the Trump administration’s agenda, it is unlikely that this route will yield the same positive outcomes. That said, the Trump administration has shown itself to be highly sensitive to public opinion, so Americans should continue to attend rallies and express themselves to the administration and its agencies. The White House comment line can be called Monday-Friday 9am-4pm Eastern time: (202) 456–1111. 

Congress: Our best hope to defend our last remaining wildlands and protect our environment may be through Congress. We must draw the line and demand that our elected representatives resist attacks on conservation.

How your Members of Congress think

Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents. In addition to legislative work, they have the non-stop job of planning their re-election. House representatives are elected every two years and senators are elected every six years. This continual election work creates a need to keep a close watch on constituent opinion. They are aware that they can’t afford to look weak or unfavorable in their home districts.

An ardent foe of conservation - especially one who receives heavy campaign funding from the oil and gas industry - may never be swayed, but we can slow their attacks by showing other lawmakers that supporting pro-pollution, anti-conservation bills can be toxic to their image. There are also many environmental champions in Congress who wish to effect positive change and they need our support. Communicating with supportive members of Congress reinforces their understanding of our issues and can help fuel their fight against bad legislation.

Speak up! Action steps for being heard

1. Contact your Members of Congress frequently … and at key times 

You have three members of Congress: two senators and one representative. If you don’t know who they are, you can find your representative here and your senators here. Any contact with your congress member is good, but concentrating phone calls and letters around key times, such as the week before an important vote, can be more effective. Most of us don’t have the time to monitor the daily workings of Congress, but you can join networks of dedicated people who will help you stay informed. 

Calling your Members of Congress

Members of Congress expect to hear from voters and their offices keep track of the types of phone calls received each day. Staff tally up the calls received on various issues, including the number of calls for, and against various bills and policies. But they will only tally calls from their own constituents. Be prepared to provide your zip code or your town when you call.

A groundswell of opposition can push legislators to back off an issue or slow down the progress of legislation while they take time to hear from more stakeholders. If you feel passionate about an issue, it’s perfectly acceptable to call your Congress members every day. A simple message stating your position and why people of your community could be affected will suffice. 

Face-to-face contact 

Meeting with your Congress member is certainly the most memorable way to reach out. While it may be difficult to secure that meeting, you could opt for an appointment with a staff member as a starting point. Be sure to bring fact sheets or other written materials that will help staff understand the issue after you’ve left. Another important way to connect is through town hall meetings and other public forums. To find out about these events, you can sign up for your representatives’ e-mail list and social media feeds. 

Mention your Congress member in letters to the editor 

Submitting a letter to the editor to your local paper is a great way to gain visibility for our issues, and actually mentioning a Congress members’ name will ensure attention by congressional staff who cull through the newspapers each day, looking for mentions of congressional members and issues. More on submitting letters and op-eds to the media. 

What about letters and e-mails? 

Physical meetings and personal phone calls are best, but an e-mail or a personal letter should not be overlooked if that’s all you can do. The key is to personalize that letter to show that you care about the issue. Tell them why you are for or a against a bill and how it could affect you or your community. Your personal story may even be used by the Congress member to publicly support his or her stance. 


· Know your member’s stand on the issue.
· Make one single, clear request, such as supporting or opposing a bill. Avoid ranting or listing off a laundry list of issues.
· Explain why you care about an issue and include your rationale or a personal Tell them why you are for or against a bill and explain how it could affect you or your community.
· Call as often as once a day 


2. Attend town hall meetings and public forums

One of the most important ways to be heard by your members of Congress is to attend town hall meetings or other forums. Members of Congress traditionally hold town halls several times a year to hear from their constituents and report back what they’ve been working on in Washington. 

What if my member of Congress has stopped holding town halls? Following outpourings of anger at local town halls in early February, many Republicans are avoiding such forums to prevent being challenged by angry crowds or becoming fodder for negative social media. Some are holding “tele-town halls” and Facebook Live events. These are not a great substitutes since questions can be screened and audience feedback may be limited. For that reason, constituents are within reason to pressure office holders to hold in-person forums. 

If your elected official has refused to hold in-person events, you can continue to encourage them to do so through phone calls, emails and social media mentions. Another option is to reach out to your Congress members at other scheduled events that are open to the public. 


Ask a question: Typically there is a Q&A portion of town hall meetings that will allow you to ask questions about how your Congress member is working for - or against - our wildlands and environmental protections. When asking your question, be sure to include a little context about bill numbers to help jog the members’ memory and educate the audience about the issue. You can also try to speak with your Congress member immediately after the session. 


Find upcoming town hall meetings through the Town Hall Project or Legistorm 

3. Say thank you and applaud good actions

Congress members need to know that voters approve of efforts to initiate positive environmental legislation. Give them a phone call to show you noticed and approve of their efforts. If they have recently introduced a positive bill, let them know you appreciate that bill and would like them to fight hard to get the bill passed.

You can also show the love by sharing the congress members’ social media posts or leaving positive comments on their Facebook posts. Just remember that singular comments aren’t as impressive as larger numbers, so it’s best if you can enlist others from your networks to give thanks as well.

4. Help rallies and protests succeed

Is your Congress member supporting bad legislation affecting climate change, undermining conservation laws or threatening a sell off of wildlands your state enjoys? Help make a strong showing outside a Congress member’s office on rally day. 

Before the rally: Spread the word by sharing invitations or Facebook event pages on your social networks. If you are an organizer, be sure to let local newspapers and media know days ahead of time.

At the rally: Organizers often provide tools for making signs, but you can make your own ahead of time to ensure a strong visual statement. If there is a check-in table, be sure to stop by and sign your name to any petitions as well as any mailing lists for future events.

Be peaceful and respectful to passers by, and ignore those who taunt or attempt to incite violence. Shouting at onlookers only undermines our cause. And of course, never damage public property.

Be willing to talk to local media about why you have come, or help find an articulate spokesperson. When speaking to reporters, stick to the issues and how the outcomes could affect your community. Avoid character attacks or other polarizing commentary that doesn’t further the debate in a constructive way. 

Keep the buzz going: During and after the rally, keep the attention going by sharing photos as well as local news stories on your social networks using popular hashtags. You can also tag your Congress member to help drive publicity they’re receiving about the event. 

If local media cover the rally on social media, be sure to share their posts and leave supportive comments on their social media feeds. Media editors study engagement and readership rates to inform the newspapers’ coverage of specific topics, so the more sharing the better. 

You can also use the comments section of Facebook posts to add any critical information about the issue that the reporter may have left out. This helps educate casual readers and can also help reporters who monitor comments to get a pulse on community perception of events and issues - and sometimes to collect quotes for future stories. 

5. Organize your own event

Image: Mike Weissman

If you can’t find a local or nearby rally or event, organize your own. This can be a demonstration to put pressure on office holders or a public forum or panel of experts to raise awareness for a specific environmental issue. Partnering with local conservation groups will ensure extra support and participant turn out. 

Before the event, be sure to alert local press to the event to ensure coverage in local news outlets and social media. Invite attendees with a Facebook events page and ask partner groups to share on their networks. You can also submit it here for extra reach. If your event is a protest, be sure to find out if your city requires a permit for demonstrations.

6. Contribute to media coverage 

Call your local media outlets and pitch the story. Anyone can call their local newspaper and media outlets to suggest coverage of an issue. Start by calling and asking if the paper has an environmental or lands reporter. If not, you can ask for a news editor. Reporters are always looking for story tips and unusual local angles to follow. 

You can start the conversation by sharing any insider information or story angles that you think your community should be aware of. You are most likely to be successful if you can explain how a policy would impact local people or businesses. It can also help to share written information, such as press releases, fact sheets, relevant stories and contact information for experts or community members the reporter can speak to for additional information and perspectives. 

Show your local paper what local readers want. Newspaper editors keep a tally on the number of visitors to online pages to help inform future coverage. Help show your paper what the public wants by clicking and sharing the stories you care about. You can also engage on social media posts through comments. Your comment, when stated politely, can help educate other readers or correct a falsehood or mistake in a story. 

Write a letter to the editor or an op-ed for your local papers

 Congress members have staff members who cull through the newspapers for mentions of the member and any policies pertinent to that member. Those stories are compiled and delivered to the member each day. Writing a letter to the editor is a great way to get visibility for our issue and have it put directly before your Congress member. If you have a little more time and know your facts very well, you can also submit an “op-ed” or fuller editorial piece. Submission requirements vary for each publication - so know the rules before you get started. 

Tips for having you work accepted:

• Newspaper editors are always looking for quality letters with unique and clear perspectives. You have a strong chance of being printed if your letter is well composed, succinct and ties to recent stories or local issues in a timely way.
• If your issue has been recently covered or written about in an op-ed, cite the article in your letter and say what you agree or disagree with.
• Offer a strong well-supported opinion, but don’t rant endlessly.
• Expertise and personal stories stand out, so be sure to mention if you are an issue expert and/or include any relevant personal anecdotes that shed light on the issue.
• If the paper has published similar letters on your topic, look for unusual side angles that have yet to be explored by recent opinion writers.
• Don’t worry if your prose isn’t perfect. Your letter will be edited for grammar, typos and clarity. What’s most important is the strength of your voice.

7. Use your social networks

Social media is a great way to drive attention to a conservation threats and issue. Facebook is good for sharing information with friends, such as rally invitations, phone calling campaigns and petitions. If you’re big on sharing news stories, you might want to expand beyond your Facebook network. Twitter is more news oriented and allows for greater reach to diverse audiences you wouldn’t normally find in your Facebook feed.

On that note, if you do tweet, be sure to develop relationships with like minded conservationists who can amplify your message. But avoid tweeting in a “bubble.” It’s always a good idea to follow friendly people from other interest circles who may not otherwise be exposed to your ideas, or you to theirs.

When tweeting, be sure to include your Congress members’ @tag on tweets about rallies and protests that pertain to them. While one mention of your congress member in social media will not likely get much attention from his or her office, a cluster or larger number of tweets can grab attention, especially if any are from influential members of the public. When you mention Congress members on social media, ask influential people and friends to do the same.When sharing opportunities for engagement on social media, be sure to add popular hashtags so that the message goes beyond your own followers. 

Popular conservation hashtags include

Public land takeover movement 

National monuments defense 

Arctic Refuge threats 

Standing Rock/Dakota Access Pipeline 
#Standing Rock

Rollbacks of Obama energy reforms 

Climate change/pollution 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Galapagos Giant Tortoises Make a Comeback Thanks to Innovative Conservation Strategies

Tortoise remains killed by hunters, 1903 R.H. Beck/LOC
by James P. Gibbs, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, The Conversation:

The Galapagos Islands are world-famous as a laboratory of biological evolution.

Some 30 percent of the plants, 80 percent of the land birds and 97 percent of the reptiles on this remote archipelago are found nowhere else on Earth.

Perhaps the most striking example is the islands’ iconic giant tortoises, which often live to ages over 100 years in the wild. Multiple species of these mega-herbivores have evolved in response to conditions on the island or volcano where each lives, generating wide variation in shell shape and size.

Over the past 200 years, hunting and invasive species reduced giant tortoise populations by an estimated 90 percent, destroying several species and pushing others to the brink of extinction, although a few populations on remote volcanoes remained abundant.

Now however, the tortoise dynasty is on the road to recovery, thanks to work by the Galapagos National Park Directorate, with critical support from nonprofits like the Galapagos Conservancy and advice from an international team of conservation scientists.

Together we are advancing a broad multiyear program called the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, overseen by Washington Tapia, Linda Cayot and myself with major collaboration from Gisella Caccone at Yale University. Using many novel strategies, the initiative helps guide the Galapagos National Park Directorate to restore viable, self-sustaining tortoise populations and recover the ecosystems in which these animals evolved.

Back from the brink

As many as 300,000 giant tortoises once roamed the Galapagos Islands. Whalers and colonists started collecting them for food in the 19th century. Early settlers introduced rats, pigs and goats, which preyed upon tortoises or destroyed their habitat. As a result, it was widely concluded by the 1940s that giant tortoises were headed for oblivion.

After the Galapagos National Park was established in 1959, park guards halted killing of tortoises for food. Next, biologists at what was then known as the Charles Darwin Research Station did the first inventory of surviving tortoises. They also initiated a program to help recover imperiled species.

One species, the Pinzon Island tortoise, had not produced any juveniles for over 100 years because nonnative black rats were preying on hatchlings. In 1965 park guards started methodically removing eggs from tortoise nests, rearing the offspring to “rat-proof” size in captivity and releasing them back into the wild. More than 5,000 young tortoises have been repatriated back to Pinzon Island. Many are now adults. This program is one of the most successful examples of “head-starting” to save a species in conservation history.


The Española tortoise, which once numbered in the thousands, had been reduced to just 15 individuals by 1960. Park guards brought those 15 into captivity, where they have produced more than 2,000 captive-raised offspring now released onto their home island. All 15 survivors are still alive and reproducing today, and the wild population numbers more than 1,000. This is one of the greatest and least-known conservation success stories of any species.

Eliminating non-native threats

Over the past 150 years, goats brought to the islands by early settlers overgrazed many of the islands, turning them into dustbowls and destroying forage, shade and water sources that tortoises relied on. In 1997 the Galapagos Conservancy launched Project Isabela, the largest ecosystem restoration initiative ever carried out in a protected area.

Over a decade park wardens, working closely with Island Conservation, used high-tech hunting tactics, helicopter support and Judas goats - animals fitted with radio collars that led hunters to the last remaining herds - to eliminate over 140,000 feral goats from virtually all of the archipelago.

Building on lessons learned from Project Isabela, the Galapagos National Park Directorate and Island Conservation then eradicated nonnative rats from Pinzón Island in 2012, enabling tortoise hatchlings to survive and complete their life cycle again for the first time in a century.

Restoring ecosystems with tortoises

The argument for tortoise conservation has been strengthened by reconceptualizing giant tortoises as agents whose actions shape the ecosystems around them. Tortoises eat and disperse many plants as they move around - and they are more mobile than many people realize. By attaching GPS tags to tortoises, scientists with the Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme have learned that tortoises migrate tens of kilometers up and down volcanoes seasonally to get to new plant growth and nesting sites.

As they move, tortoises crush vegetation. They may be an important factor in maintaining the native savannah-like ecosystems on the islands where they live. When tortoises are scarce, we think that shrubs sprout up, crowding out many herbaceous plants and other animal species.

We need data to support this theory, so we have constructed an elaborate system of “exclosures” on two islands that wall tortoises out of certain areas. By comparing vegetation in the tortoise-free zones to conditions outside of the exclosures, we will see just how tortoises shape their ecosystems.

Restoring ecosystems on islands where tortoises have gone extinct requires more drastic steps. Santa Fe Island lost its endemic giant tortoises more than 150 years ago, and its ecosystems are still recovering from a scourge of goats. Park managers are attempting to restore the island using an “analog,” nonnative species - the genetically and morphologically similar Española tortoise.

In 2015 the Galapagos National Park Directorate released 201 juvenile Española tortoises in the interior of Santa Fe Island. They all appear to have survived their first year there, and 200 more are scheduled for release in 2017. Española tortoises are still endangered, so this strategy has the extra value of creating a reserve population of them on Santa Fe island.

On Pinta Island, which also has lost its endemic tortoise, park managers have released sterilized nonnative tortoises to serve as “vegetation management tools” that can prepare the habitat for future introductions of reproductive tortoises. These initiatives are some of the first-ever to use analog species to jump-start plant community restoration.

Reviving lost species

The endemic tortoises of Floreana Island are also considered to be extinct. But geneticists recently discovered that in a remote location on Isabela Island, tortoises evidently had been translocated from around the archipelago during the whaling era. In a major expedition in 2015, park rangers and collaborating scientists removed 32 tortoises from Isabela Island with shell features similar to the extinct Pinta and Floreana species.

Now the geneticists are exploring the degree of interbreeding of these 32 distinct tortoises between the extinct species and native Wolf Volcano tortoises. We are hoping to find a few “pure” survivors from the extinct species. Careful and selective breeding of tortoises in captivity with significant levels of either Pinta or Floreana ancestry will follow to produce a new generation of young tortoises to be released back on Pinta and Floreana Islands and help their ecosystems recover.

Removing a Wolf Volcano tortoise from Isabela Island for the Floreana tortoise restoration initiative. Jane Braxton Little, CC BY-NC-ND

Converting tragedy to inspiration

Lonesome George, the last known living Pinta Island giant tortoise, died in 2012 after decades in captivity. His frozen remains were transferred to the United States and taxidermied by world-class experts. In mid-February Lonesome George will be returned to Galapagos once again and ensconced as the focus of a newly renovated park visitation center.

Some 150,000 visitors each year will learn the complex but ultimately encouraging story of giant tortoise conservation, and a beloved family member will rest back at home again.

James P. Gibbs, Professor of Vertebrate Conservation Biology and Director of the Roosevelt Wild Life Station, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.