“What We Want Is ACTION”

NWF has been a formidable force for conservation since its founding during the Great Depression; today, the organization is grappling with some of the gravest threats ever to wildlife and human survival

  • Jessica Snyder Sachs
  • Jan 19, 2011

DURING THE FIRST WEEK of February 1936, newspaper readers across the nation flipped open to an editorial cartoon featuring an army of hunters, anglers, gardeners, biologists and children storming the nation’s Capitol. At the fore, men armed with fishing rods and shotguns pluck a figure dubbed “Congress” from the Capitol dome.

“I’ve always been sympathetic to conservation,” he squeals.

“Sympathy is not enough,” they cry. “What we want is ACTION.”

To readers of the day, the style was instantly recognizable as that of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jay N. “Ding” Darling. But as readers chuckled, Darling, an ardent conservationist, was leading a real-life crusade in Washington, D.C. On February 3, some 1,500 Americans responded to Darling’s call to attend the first North American Wildlife Conference. From Dust Bowl farmers to big-game hunters, women’s leaguers to Girl Scout leaders, they converged on the Mayflower Hotel. Before they left four days later, they had founded the General Wildlife Federation—renamed “National” two years later—and elected Darling its first president.

Today, NWF remains diverse in its membership and works closely with a network of 46 state and territorial affiliates that, like Darling’s crusaders, span the social and political spectrum. “NWF’s mainstream membership and vibrant grassroots base have always allowed it to reach out beyond the so-called green community to be a formidable force for conservation,” says Jim Lyon, NWF’s vice president for conservation policy.

NWF and its member affiliates now grapple with global threats to wildlife that would have seemed unimaginable 75 years ago. Yet Darling’s inaugural speech presciently touched on the three conservation priorities that today make up the Federation’s strategic plan for the next decade: to protect and restore wildlife; to reconnect people to nature; and to confront pollution and its consequences, including the unprecedented environmental challenge of global warming. On the following pages, historians and NWF staff and affiliate members describe the dramatic evolution of the organization’s work across these three realms.

Fighting for Wildlife and Habitat

Some constructive program or procedure must be devised which may rescue the wildlife populations of this North American continent from extinction.—Jay N. “Ding” Darling, North American Wildlife Conference, February 3, 1936

The 1930s were bleak times for America’s wildlife as well as its workers. The whooping crane was on the brink, duck populations had plummeted to all-time lows, and cougars, wolves and grizzlies had vanished from much of their historic range. In the midst of economic collapse, it would have been easy to turn a blind eye on nature. But the newly formed National Wildlife Federation was determined to help the United States make the connection between economics and ecology. “Let no one longer conceive the question of wildlife conservation to be limited to the interest of sportsmen and bird lovers,” Darling warned. “It is fundamentally economic in its major aspects, and a vital element in our existence.”

In its first year, NWF proved instrumental in influencing lawmakers to pass the historic Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. Through fees on guns and ammunition, the legislation provided some of the first dedicated funds for habitat protection. Seventy-five years later, it continues to raise millions annually for wildlife conservation.

In its first decade, the Federation struggled to stay solvent while expanding its advocacy work. Through bulletins and phone calls, its small staff continually relayed news of wildlife threats to members, while on Capitol Hill, its one lobbyist reminded legislators that conservation now had political clout, thanks to the organization’s voting bloc. Then as today, NWF frequently brought state-affiliate leaders to Washington to meet with their congressional representatives on key issues.

“In the early years, a lot of what we did was reactive,” says former NWF counsel Patrick Parenteau, now a professor of environmental law at Vermont Law School. “An affiliate would come to us saying ‘they’re going to put a dam on my favorite trout steam. Can you do something about that?’ And we did. But we also began seeing the patterns and attacking the root causes of such problems.”

In this vein, NWF later began exposing the environmental destruction behind costly government practices such as funding unnecessary hydroelectric dams and undercharging for grazing rights in wilderness areas. In 1977, for example, it challenged the installation of a hydroelectric dam on New Mexico’s San Juan River that would have ruined a blue-ribbon trout stream. Over the following decade, it brought suits to stop the excessive cattle grazing that was destroying pronghorn and sharp-tailed grouse habitat in Montana’s Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. “In the process, we convinced the government to gradually reduce grazing permits,” Parenteau says. In recent years, the Federation has bought and retired grazing rights for more than 600,000 acres—sometimes to preserve crucial habitat and other times to protect wolves and grizzlies coming into conflict with livestock.

As the organization grew, it gathered the professionals needed to make a broader case for conservation. “What distinguished us from other environmental organizations was the way we could bring together science, economics, law and policy,” Parenteau says. “When we went to lobby a deal, if the objection was costs, we had an economist who could explain how it could be done. If they questioned the science, we had the experts to lay out the research. If they asked, ‘Well how can we write this into law?’ we had lawyers to help craft the legislation.” In these ways, the Federation helped win the passage of such landmark environmental legislation as the Clean Water Act of 1963, the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) of 1969 and the dramatically expanded Clean Water Act of 1970.

When necessary, NWF also was there to ensure enforcement of these hard-won protections. In 1969, for example, NWF joined with the Sierra Club and the Calvert Cliffs Coordinating Committee in a lawsuit under NEPA to prevent the Atomic Energy Commission from locating a nuclear power plant on the shores of Chesapeake Bay without a full and public consideration of environmental effects. “With one stroke, the ruling on that case imposed environmental duties on not just the Atomic Energy Commission but all federal agencies,” says Tulane University environmental law professor Oliver Houck—the Federation’s first and, at the time, only environmental attorney. As a result of that case, Houck explains, all federal agencies must now investigate and report on the environmental impacts of major projects, from dam and road building to mining, logging and ranching on federal lands.

Similarly, NWF went to court in 1975, citing the Endangered Species Act to successfully challenge plans for a highway that cut through the habitat of the Mississippi sandhill crane. The settlement included $4.5 million to establish a permanent refuge for the endangered species. In 1977, the Federation helped stop dam construction that threatened critical migratory habitat for the endangered whooping crane in central Nebraska. The precedent-setting resolution established federal water rights for wildlife.

And in 1979, NWF and its affiliates played a crucial role in winning passage of the historic Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Signed into law in 1980 after years of congressional debate, the act expanded federal wildlife refuge and park systems by nearly 100 million acres, creating or enlarging 15 national parks, including Denali National Park and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And after a four-year struggle, in 1988, NWF succeeded with other groups in persuading Congress to reauthorize the Endangered Species Act with enough funding ($66 million) to create meaningful protections.

“Historically we have been involved in the greatest environmental debates of the times,” says NWF president Larry Schweiger. “I suspect we will continue to do that for the next 75 years, though how we do that must continue to evolve.” Today, for example, while NWF continues to champion threatened species, its conservation work has evolved to embrace a multispecies, ecosystem approach. “Now when we advocate for safeguarding keystone species such as the Florida panther and the grizzly bear, our efforts focus not just on those species but on the larger ecosystems that they represent,” explains John Kostyack, NWF executive director for wildlife conservation and global warming.

In 2009, for example, an NWF lawsuit forced the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to consider the ecological toll of issuing flood insurance to developers in Florida Keys wildlife habitat. The Federation did so on the grounds that FEMA actions were jeopardizing the survival of Florida’s endangered Key deer. But while the ruling directly safeguarded only a few hundred acres, it set a precedent that now extends nationwide. In the process, the action will arguably save taxpayers billions of dollars, Kostyack says, by stopping FEMA from using taxpayer dollars to underwrite development in flood-prone areas that no private company would be foolish enough to insure.

NWF also is now brokering deals to end conflicts between threatened predators and livestock in ways that focus on protecting and expanding crucial wildlife corridors. In one recent example, NWF raised some $250,000 to retire a Wyoming family’s grazing rights inside the Bridger-Teton National Forest, which connects vital wolf and grizzly habitat in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The payout represented a good-will alternative to either protecting the livestock by shooting grizzlies and wolves or demanding that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) cancel the family’s grazing privileges without compensation. (See “Reducing Conflict on Public Lands.”)

Such pragmatic solutions allow the Federation to maintain a trusted voice across the political spectrum, says Craig Thompson, NWF board chairman and a longtime member of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. “Our membership has always included those who don’t see a difference between being a conservationist and being a conservative,” Thompson notes.

Today, the Federation also is deepening its relationship with the American tribal groups that together control 95 million acres, including some of the last extensive U.S. wilderness tracts. “Throughout American history, our native tribes were given the land that nobody else wanted,” says Steve Torbit, NWF’s executive director for the Rocky Mountain region. “Now, after centuries of development, they have the best of what’s left.”

Through its Tribal Lands Program, NWF is helping more than 30 tribes reintroduce bison to their natural habitat. It also is providing scientific guidance and equipment to help the Nez Perce of Idaho reintroduce gray wolves and the White Mountain Apache reintroduce native Mexican wolves and recover their threatened Apache trout.

“Besides working on these local levels, we’re also working to empower America’s native people by getting their voice heard in Washington,” Torbit says. Those efforts included arranging a meeting last year between leaders of the National Congress of American Indians and President Obama on the subject of federal funding to help tribes safeguard their natural resources in the face of climate change. (See “A Culture of Coexistence.”)

Meanwhile, NWF continues to tackle the growing threat of invasive species across the continent. The Federation’s work in the Great Lakes region exemplifies this effort, says Andy Buchsbaum, NWF regional executive director for the Great Lakes region. Since the 1960s, the organization has worked with the area fishery managers to beat back the invasive sea lamprey that drove the lakes’ native trout to extinction. It continues working on solutions to subsequent waves of destructive invaders, including zebra mussels, quagga mussels, alewives and exotic water fleas.

Over the past three years, NWF has played a leading role in the passage of the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The compact will expand environmental protections further through agreements between bordering states and Canadian provinces. The initiative provided $475 million in the 2010 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget to target the lakes’ invasive species and other environmental threats.

“This has been an unprecedented and historic time in the restoration of this vast and biodiverse region,” Buchsbaum says. “But despite this progress, we now face what may be the greatest threat ever to the Great Lakes—the invasion of massive nonnative Asian carp.” Reaching up to 90 pounds, these voracious fish likely escaped from southern fish farms in the 1990s. They have quickly spread up the Mississippi River to within a few miles of Lake Michigan, multiplying so quickly that in parts of the Mississippi Basin the invaders now make up more than 90 percent of all fish life.

Because they eat plankton, Asian carp have the potential to destroy the foundation of the Great Lakes food chain, threatening the entire ecosystem as well as commercial fisheries worth $7 billion a year, Buchsbaum warns. The Federation is working with scientists and government agencies that are seeking to stop the carp’s northern migration. “We’re making progress,” Buchsbaum reports. “But the government action so far as been too limited and too slow.” In particular, NWF is pressing federal and state agencies to implement quickly a plan to block carp movement in the five channels through which the invasive fish can reach the Great Lakes. The Federation also is working with Congress to fund a study that can show how best to separate the Mississippi River system and Lake Michigan while simultaneously filing arguments with the U.S. Supreme Court that call for making such a separation permanent.

Combating Pollution and Climate Change

Our polluted rivers and depleted lakes, once magnificent reservoirs of sustaining resources … no longer yield their vast bounty to stay the hunger of our people.—Jay N. “Ding” Darling, North American Wildlife Conference, February 3, 1936

In its founding days, the Federation began addressing pollution threats to wildlife. Working with other groups, NWF played a key role in passage of the 1947 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. For the first time, manufacturers were forced to label pesticides with disposal instructions for minimizing harm to wildlife. Twenty-five years later, NWF and its conservation partners won their campaign for a DDT ban. And the Federation’s growing staff of environmental scientists and lawyers played instrumental roles in pressing federal authorities to enforce the Superfund Act of 1980, which held polluters liable for the cleanup of the hazardous substances they discharge. “A lot of people don’t realize how the world is different today because of a law like Superfund,” says Parenteau, who helped craft aspects of the legislation. “Because of Superfund, we no longer have people dumping drums of toxic waste in back lots. We don’t have buried tanks leaking gasoline and oil.”

Yet another Federation landmark achievement was the initiation of rules banning the use of lead shot, which poisons waterfowl that feed on wetland bottoms. As far back as 1874, scientists had reported on the widespread poisoning. By the 1960s, hunters had access to less toxic steel shot. Over the course of three decades, the Federation helped persuade the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to phase out lead shot. Biologists estimated in the 1980s that more than 3,000 tons of lead shot ended up in wetlands, ponds and fields as a by-product of hunting and killed 2 million to 3 million waterfowl yearly. It also jeopardized endangered bald eagles that fed on the dead ducks and geese. An NWF study in the mid-1980s concluded that lead poisoning imperiled wintering eagles in 81 counties. Thanks to NWF’s activities, lead shot gradually was banned, first in areas of extensive wildlife poisoning, later in bald eagle nesting grounds and, beginning in 1991, nationwide. More than once during the protracted fight, NWF looked to the many sportspeople in its membership to counter the National Rifle Association’s efforts to label the dispute as “a conflict between hunters and anti-hunters.”

Importantly, the Federation has never focused on pollution in a vacuum, Buchsbaum says. “It has always been in the context of helping wildlife survive and preserving natural resources for future generations.” Buchsbaum points to the Federation’s work on mercury pollution in the Great Lakes, exposing how such contamination works its way up this great ecosystem’s food chain to harm both predators and people who eat contaminated fish.

Since the 1980s, NWF’s fish-consumption advisories have been an important aspect of this work. “NWF almost single-handedly changed the way government agencies handled mercury’s threat to health,” Buchsbaum says. NWF demonstrated, for example, that government calculations of safe fish-consumption levels were too high to protect women and children. Indeed, research has since revealed that as many as one in six American women of childbearing age has blood mercury levels high enough to threaten the health of hundreds of thousands of newborns each year. “The result of our work,” Buchsbaum says, “was new government policies that dramatically reduced lake pollutants.”

After championing the first Clean Air Act (1963) and its historic 1970 expansion, the Federation went on to fight for revisions that, in 1990, forced industries to slash dramatically their sulfur and nitrogen emissions—this after scientists documented the environmental nightmare of acid rain. And in 1989, NWF released its “Toxic 500” study, the first public disclosure of the high levels of toxic air pollutants being emitted by 500 U.S. industrial plants. Meanwhile, the Federation’s air pollution work went global with the discovery that industrial chemicals were creating a hole in the upper atmosphere’s ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from deadly ultraviolet radiation. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, NWF and other conservation groups helped win international agreements to phase out the ozone-depleting chemicals. Scientists are now reporting signs of ozone “healing” that may largely reconstitute the Earth’s protective shield over the next half century.

More recently, the Federation has focused much of its efforts on combating a far more complicated global air-pollution threat, the atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases and, with it, the stark reality of global warming. “The science is clear, that unless we act now we will likely see 20 to 30 percent of all plant and animal species extinct or on the road to extinction by 2050,” Schweiger says. Some models suggest that, ultimately, the species loss could rise as high as 70 percent. For this reason, when Schweiger took the helm in 2004, he did so with the express commitment of making the climate crisis the top Federation priority. “It would be hard for an organization that cares about wildlife and the future of our children to do anything else,” he says.

Jeremy Symons, NWF’s senior vice president of conservation and education, concurs: “Climate change threatens to unravel much of what NWF and our volunteers have achieved over the past 75 years. It touches everything.” This focus has made the Federation a leading advocate for clean-energy solutions and a source of technical expertise and political support for industry leaders as well as government officials. “Because of climate change we now have vital interests in virtually every part of the economy,” adds Kostyack. “We’re working with farmers, energy developers, the people who are producing our cars and others throughout the transportation industry.” Since 1998, NWF has published more than two dozen reports on the effects of global warming, including The Birdwatcher’s Guide to Global Warming and The Gardener’s Guide to Global Warming.

NWF’s global warming initiatives also have changed how the group works with many of its traditional partners, Kostyack says. For instance, the Federation currently is helping habitat-restoration groups update their practices using scientific predictions of how climate change will alter landscapes and weather patterns in local areas.

Climate change has brought new NWF partners as well. They include the Christian Coalition, whose leaders are working with the Federation on ways to communicate the importance of environmental progress in terms of conservative values. In 2009, for example, the Christian Coalition joined with the NWF Action Fund to urge the U.S. Senate to move forward on a clean-energy plan for America. As the Christian Coalition’s Path to Progress now states: “National Security = Economic Growth = Cleaner Environment.”

Also in 2009, the annual conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) passed a resolution to work with NWF on climate change. Specifically, the NAACP resolution cites the disproportionate harm that global warming is having and will have on communities of color around the world in terms of increased flooding, hunger, malnutrition, malaria and asthma. The Federation is likewise working with the NAACP on promoting the economic and health benefits that wise climate policies can deliver to African-American communities through green jobs and reduced pollution. Closely related to this work is the NWF Fair Climate Project, with its goal of empowering under-served communities to advocate for climate-change solutions.

Meanwhile, the climate crisis continues to draw on the Federation’s more traditional advocacy work, with NWF aiding government leaders with the expertise of its scientists and legal experts as well as the support of its state and local affiliates. “Sometimes, there’s no substitute for bringing constituents to Washington to talk with their representatives,” NWF board chair Thompson says. “Our affiliate members from South Carolina proved particularly influential in winning passage of the climate bill through the House this year.”

The fossil fuel industry that produces the effluents that cause global warming delivered the nation a serious environmental blow in April 2010 with the gulf oil disaster. When significant amounts of oil reached Louisiana beaches and barrier islands, NWF staff already had been on hand there for weeks. President Larry Schweiger and various NWF experts had been collecting oil samples, observing effects on animals and meeting with media to underscore the message that wildlife in a marine environment 100 times larger than the Great Lakes is in imminent danger. NWF created a formal science team to examine spill issues such as the use and impact of dispersants and the ecological implications of methane releases. “We must challenge those who pollute and destroy our world before it passes a point of no return,” Schweiger says.

Connecting People with Nature

It is a nice thing to go a-fishing.—Jay N. “Ding” Darling, North American Wildlife Conference, February 3, 1936

“One thing set the National Wildlife Federation apart from the very beginning,” says FWS historian Mark Madison. “It has always been about engaging and educating the public.” While other early conservation organizations catered to the converted—hunters, bird-watchers, hikers or the like—NWF drew the interest of everyday Americans by the use of art, photography and nature writing on behalf of conservation, Madison observes. “Perhaps it was no coincidence,” he says, “that Ding Darling’s background was as a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial artist and writer.”

In his first year as NWF president, Darling personally illustrated the Federation’s first set of collectable conservation stamps. Roger Tory Peterson, already famous for his bird field guides, would paint the following year’s collection. For more than six decades, the yearly stamp series helped raise public awareness and conservation funds as part of the Federation’s annual Wildlife Restoration Week.

Outreach to children was always an important part of the NWF education mission, with such kid-friendly celebrities as Shirley Temple, Hopalong Cassidy and Walt Disney serving as honorary chairpersons of Wildlife Week (1940, 1951 and 1963, respectively). In 1941, NWF sent school teachers its first educational booklets, and in 1958 Ranger Rick and his friends cleaned up their first polluted pond in the NWF children’s book The Adventures of Rick Raccoon. “The Federation always has been about educating the next generation and ensuring its personal connection with nature,” says Kevin Coyle, NWF senior vice president of education programs. Wildlife Week, for example, had a dual mission of educating the public on conservation but also engaging kids with hands-on activities.

In 1962, the launch of its new magazine National Wildlife dramatically increased NWF’s membership through subscriptions. Five years later Ranger Rick® became America’s first wildlife magazine for children, with Your Big Backyard® and Wild Animal Baby® following in 1980 and 1997. In addition, the Federaton’s long history of producing television programs and films is continuing in the spinoff of television shows from the children’s publications, such as the new PBS series Wild Animal Baby Explorers®. NWF also has been partnering with Hollywood studios to supply educational web content and downloadable school curricula for major films with conservation themes, including Where the Wild Things Are and Nim’s Island.

In kindergarten through grade 12, NWF’s Eco-Schools USA program is helping students, teachers, administrators, parents and volunteers create collaborative programs that green school buildings, grounds and educational curriculum while developing students’ understanding of key science, math, technology and social science concepts. The program involves more than 125,000 students and 4,000 educators at some 360 schools—one of the largest comprehensive green school programs in the country.

Since 1989, NWF’s Campus Ecology® program has been working each year with coalitions of environmental groups at more than 1,000 universities and colleges and organizing some of the largest student environmental leadership summits in history. For more than a decade, it also has supported more than 130 student leaders with intensive fellowships that include professional development and campus programs that engage students in wildlife conservation and sustainable development.

Today, NWF’s Chill Out: Campus Solutions to Global Warming competition promotes innovative campus solutions to global warming. Some participants have used their campuses as laboratories for green education and training. Others have greened their transportation systems and campus buildings. Recently, Nobel laureate Al Gore described the creativity of the Chill Out competitors as “a key part of how we can create a better world, a world with a vibrant, sustainable economy and a healthy Earth for all future generations.”

In the years ahead, the Federation will be expanding its work with community colleges. “Two-year colleges represent the largest job-training platforms in the country and a special opportunity for NWF to help train a new generation in the technical skills they’ll need for the clean-energy jobs of the future,” Coyle explains. Along these lines, NWF will be working with Boston-based Jobs for the Future to create green career pathways for students in historically low-income communities.

Importantly, the Federation’s education efforts also include programs aimed at helping people to restore a personal connection with nature. The most familiar example is NWF’s longstanding Certified Wildlife HabitatTM program. Since 1973, it has helped nearly 140,000 households, schools and businesses create sustainable wildlife havens by learning about supplying the four cornerstones of a sustainable habitat—food, water, cover and nesting sites.

The success of the backyard habitat program led to the more ambitious Schoolyard Habitats® and Community Wildlife Habitat® programs. NWF has now certified the wildlife havens created by some 3,400 schools and more than 48 communities, many of which incorporate educational wildlife trails and outdoor learning centers. A growing number of private and public facilities are joining the program, from a Subaru automotive plant in Indiana to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which maintains more than 50 acres of NWF-certified habitat. (See “Welcoming Travelers and Wildlife.”) “Certainly these programs have value to wildlife,” Coyle says, “but the main idea is to engage people with nature where they live and work, to give them a personal experience with nature that goes beyond the occasional visit to a park or wilderness area.”

Putting people in touch with nature took on new importance in 2003, when the results of a Kaiser Family Foundation study revealed that U.S. children were spending some 53 hours a week hooked up to electronic media. Other studies showed that our children’s outdoor time had plummeted to around four hours a week, 90 percent of which involved organized sports, leaving just 4 to 7 minutes a day for unstructured outdoor time. “That’s so foreign to those of us who grew up playing outdoors that it gives us reason to be concerned about the next generation’s emotional connection with wildlife,” Coyle says. “Will they have the affection for nature that comes with a childhood watching birds in the trees and playing outside into the dusk to see the fireflies come out?”

In 2009, the Federation launched its Be Out There® campaign, with the goal of ensuring that all children have a minimum of one “green hour” of unstructured outdoor play each day. “Looking back over the last 75 years,” Coyle says, “we’ve made tremendous progress improving people’s understanding of the importance of wildlife and healthy habitats. But unless they have personal connections, we risk winning their heads and losing their hearts.”

NWF also has provided people with hands-on opportunities to help damaged nature. Because development crippled the Louisiana coasts’ ability to recover from storms such as Rita and Katrina, NWF launched a coastal restoration initiative in summer 2007. This project sought during its first year to restore 500 acres of marshland, clear invasive species from 6,000 acres of wetland and remove 10 tons of trash and debris.

Then, on the heels of the gulf oil spill disaster, NWF, its five gulf-state affiliates and other partners established a Gulf Coast Volunteer Surveillance Network to track and report on BP oil spill impacts, support wildlife rescue efforts and restore damaged coastal ecosystems. Some 3,000 people across the United States offered to join the project. “Volunteer observers play a critical role in gathering data documenting the spill’s ecological impacts on land and sea,” says Eliza Russell, NWF education director. Network volunteers made daily tours of the 10,000 miles of coast along the Gulf of Mexico, notified trained rescue teams about oiled and injured wildlife, monitored wildlife overall health status and numbers and watched for signs of oil in new areas of the gulf.

Into the Future

“NWF has a long history of being on the leading edge of environmental issues,” Schweiger says. “From those of the 1930s to today, this tradition also is our future.” In particular, Schweiger sees the Federation continuing to address the challenges of habitat fragmentation, pollution and invasive species, but with the added layer of global climate disruption. “As a result, the way we conserve wildlife will be different from the techniques used in the past,” he says, “for not only do we have to protect habitat and reconnect habitat fragments, we will also need to help wildlife make the transition to a warmer world.”

At the same time, Schweiger says, the Federation will remain the grassroots organization envisioned by Darling in 1936. “Our state and territorial affiliates have always set our conservation agenda and will always have a lot to say about our evolution as an organization,” he explains. “And today those affiliates need our help meeting the new challenges of reinventing wildlife management on local and regional levels.” The bottom line, he concludes, is “there’s a lot of work to be done by the people who care about nature.”

Jessica Snyder Sachs is a frequent contributor to National Wildlife.


“75 Years of Conservation”—A sampling of National Wildlife Federation’s notable moments and accomplishments during its first 75 years
“NWF Picks: Top Wildlife-Watching Spots”—From coast to coast, many of the special places NWF has helped protect also provide exceptional opportunities to view wild animals
Photo Gallery: 7 Bird Species the National Wildlife Federation Has Helped Protect--Birds are among the diversity of animals better off today thanks to NWF, which this year celebrates its 75th anniversary 

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