We are now two years into the Trump administration. As we reflect on this time period, our resistance to the administration’s anti-environment agenda has blocked a great number of policies that would have harmed the wildlife and public lands of the West, as well as the climate. Frankly, we’re in a better position than we expected given Trump’s all-out environmental assault. In part, that’s because of the support and solidarity you’ve provided and for that, we’re deeply grateful.
On the national stage, we’ve held the line against attacks to hard-won safeguards for our country’s bedrock public lands, wildlife, and communities. We helped win a tough 51-49 vote in the U.S. Senate to preserve the authority of a future administration to cut climate pollution and waste from oil and gas development on public lands. We’ve leveraged our expertise to defeat attacks on our National Forest System, helped reshape the dialogue around wildfire in the Western U.S., and set the stage for proactive, long-term action in service of the Pacific Northwest’s forests and public lands.
We’ve proven equally formidable in federal court. Just this year, we ran the table on a trio of high-profile federal public lands fossil fuel cases. We prevailed on cutting-edge, climate-based claims that provide critical on-the-ground climate and conservation protections in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming, while building precedent and authority to change national-scale policy once the political context in D.C. improves. We’ve secured major legal wins for the Endangered Species Act, protecting some of the West’s most iconic species including Canada lynx, Mexican wolves and Grizzly bears. At the same time, we’ve protected 20,688 miles of Oregon’s streams—nearly one-fifth of the state’s total—by defending Oregon’s ban on motorized streambed mining in essential salmonid habitat. And we’ve protected old-growth forests on Oregon’s Ochoco National Forest in an area important to big game, redband trout, and gray wolves.
We’ve also sought “open spaces” of opportunity, deepening our commitment to forest collaboration in eastern and central Oregon and building out a promising campaign to protect Puget Sound’s fisheries and wildlife. With a significant political shift underway in New Mexico, we’re now working to shape our new political leadership’s agenda on a variety of climate and conservation fronts. These efforts may, given New Mexico’s political leadership in Washington, D.C., foreshadow national-scale action in the future. And we’ve made great strides to integrate power building with other organizations and communities into our advocacy, including by embedding equity, inclusion, and justice principles into our “organizational DNA” to better serve and learn from historically-marginalized communities.
But as we celebrate our success, we also recognize the losses to our public lands, wildlife, and communities and the profound, even existential challenges facing the American West’s environment. As a result, we acknowledge a deep need to up our game. Across the Wes, snowpack is in a long-term decline, with some regions, such as in the Southwest, in the midst of a deeper, more chronic problem than mere drought: aridification. We’ve seen wildfires rage with a ferocity previously unknown, devastating large-scale landscapes and communities. We know climate change exacerbates persistent, longstanding threats to river health and the long-term viability of the West’s wildlife and communities, as well. Climate change compels us to use all of our creativity and capacity to drive action that helps secure a vibrant, thriving future.
With this in mind, we’re working with a sense of vision and ambition that echoes writer N.K. Jemisin’s powerful comment: “We creators are the engineers of possibility.” As a public interest, legal advocacy non-profit, we have a job to do in this moment, and we were trained well to do it. With your support, we’ve taken the time to build an organization that punches well above its weight. To amplify our impact, we know it will prove essential to communicate a forward-looking, values-based vision for climate and conservation action—how the world should be and can be if we prevail—and to have the ambition to achieve that vision, even if it seems impractical with such a hostile administration in the immediate moment.
Clear-eyed, we know the future is uncertain, with both peril and promise possible with the country standing on shifting sands. But while those shifting sands suggest the risk of further, serious degradation to our country’s future from an isolated (and thus dangerous) president, they also suggest the potential for an emergent new political discourse. The U.S. House of Representatives’ incoming class, as explained by the New York Times, “is the most racially diverse and most female group of representatives ever elected to the House, whose history spans more than 200 years. And it boasts an avalanche of firsts, from the first Native American congresswomen to the first Muslim congresswomen.” This has direct relevance to our work, with Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez playing a lead role in advancing an exciting “Green New Deal” agenda that provides a compelling, values-driven frame for climate action; acknowledges the intertwined reality of natural, built, and social systems; and may eventually underpin the first truly comprehensive framework for climate action at the national level.
I distinctly remember witnessing, with my family, the amazing, empowering energy of the Women’s March on January 21, 2017—the day after President Trump’s inauguration. To me, there’s a clear line from the 2017 March to the 2018 midterm elections. That clear line provides a lesson in the power of action to catalyze hope and change that ripples through time and bears electoral (and perhaps long-term policy) consequences.
As I think about my own role, and the role of WELC in this moment, I can’t help but feel sorrow for what we are losing and the state of our country. But I also have an empowering sense of possibility and of my privilege and power to cultivate the seeds of change and good that persist in this world. Thank you for supporting us. Thank you for partnering with us. Here’s to tomorrow.