Time to Celebrate the Nation’s Iconic Wildlife

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As the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) celebrates its 75 anniversary this year, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the iconic species that survive today thanks to 1,500 Americans who descended on Washington D.C. in February of 1936 for the first North American Wildlife Conference. Their collective passion to protect America’s wildlife before it was too late formed the General Wildlife Federation -- renamed “National” two years later.

National Wildlife Federation, Grizzly, Cubs

Female Grizzly and Cubs

Following a long tradition of passion, initiative and collaboration, National Wildlife Federation will continue to lead the nation’s conservation movement to protect America’s wildlife, which future generations will thank us for.

The 1930s were a bleak time for our country’s economy and its citizens, but America’s wildlife was also in big trouble. The whooping crane was on the brink of extinction, duck populations had plummeted to all-time lows, cougars, wolves and grizzly bears had vanished from their historical habitats.

When sportsmen and other outdoor enthusiasts around the country saw what was happening to our wildlife heritage, they stepped forward to sound a clarion call. They saw the impacts of unfettered hunting and industrialization and started a movement that was to become the birth of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

As the organization celebrates its 75 anniversary this year, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the iconic species that survive today thanks to 1,500 Americans who descended on Washington D.C. in February of 1936 for the first North American Wildlife Conference. Their collective passion to protect America’s wildlife before it was too late formed the General Wildlife Federation -- renamed “National” two years later.

“Some constructive program or procedure must be devised which will rescue the wildlife populations of the North American continent from extinction,” said Jay. N. “Ding” Darling, a leader in organizing the Wildlife Conference and first president of National Wildlife Federation.

Attention early on was focused on protecting the country’s waterfowl and bird species which had seen giant flocks significantly reduced in numbers. In 1951, the key deer was the first endangered species that NWF fought to protect and the work to safeguard this animal became a model for endangered species protection that continues today. Once numbering only a few dozen animals the battle is not done for the tiny key deer as today there are still fewer than a thousand remaining in their Florida Keys habitat.

The bald eagle is an Endangered Species Act success story. Our national bird almost became extinct in the lower 48 states due to widespread use of the chemical DDT. Now thousands of birds soar across the country. NWF was instrumental in the bird’s comeback and continues to educate about the impacts of pollution on wildlife species.

The gray wolf was persecuted almost to extinction in the lower 48 states in the early part of 20th century. NWF worked with our government to spearhead the wolf’s recovery by helping to reintroduce gray wolves into Yellowstone Park in 1995 and advocate for their protection in other parts of the country.

Sometimes protecting wildlife means forging partnerships with unlikely parties. That’s the case for grizzly bears, wolves and bison. NWF’s Adopt a Wildlife Acre program helped purchase and retire grazing rights to reduce conflicts with livestock on public lands in the Northern Rocky Mountains so grizzly bears, wolves and bison could have more space to roam.

For a long time, it seemed we could protect most wildlife species if we could save their habitat. But now climate change is affecting that habitat and has become the greatest threat to animals. In the Far North, the Arctic ice the polar bear depends upon is melting away and it’s harder for these majestic mammals to reach their feeding grounds. NWF is focused on reducing global warming pollution and helping wildlife survive the impacts.

The devastating Gulf oil spill disaster highlighted how our fossil fuel dependence not only creates greenhouse gas emissions, but can also damage both aquatic and terrestrial habitat. NWF was the voice for wildlife like the Kemps Ridley turtle, the most endangered turtle in the world which suffered almost 500 deaths during and after the spill. The organization remains vigilant on restoring the region’s battered ecosystems while advocating for safer drilling practices and alternative energy sources.

What wildlife species will be next on the critical list? What conservation efforts will be required to keep our nation’s wildlife heritage alive?

“Following a long tradition of passion, initiative and collaboration, National Wildlife Federation will continue to lead the nation’s conservation movement to protect America’s wildlife, which future generations will thank us for,” says Larry Schweiger, current NWF President and CEO.

For more information on the National Wildlife Federation’s anniversary go to http://www.nwf.org/75/

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Mary Burnette
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