The Center for Biological Diversity was founded beneath the ancient ponderosa pines of New Mexico’s Gila wilderness, where Kierán Suckling, Peter Galvin, and Todd Schulke met while surveying owls for the U.S. Forest Service. All three were in their early twenties, with a passion for wild places; Kierán was a doctoral student in philosophy, Peter was training in conservation biology, and Todd had a background running outdoor-education programs for high-risk kids. When their surveys turned up a rare Mexican spotted owl nest in an old-growth tree, and they found out that same tree was part of a vast area slated to be razed in a massive timber sale, they took their findings to the local Forest Service manager. The Forest Service had been entrusted with shielding sensitive species from harm, but it soon became clear the agency was more invested in its relationship with big timber than in its commitment to the public to protect forest wildlife. The timber sale would go forward, in violation of the Service’s own rules.
The three young men promptly took the story to a local paper.
In the end, that big old tree never fell to the chainsaws, and Kierán, Peter and Todd became personae non gratae at the Forest Service. Along with Dr. Robin Silver, an emergency room doctor, nature photographer, and grassroots advocate who had written an Endangered Species Act petition to protect the Mexican spotted owl — and joined by a growing group of other activists as word of mouth spread — they formed the group that would eventually be known as the Center for Biological Diversity. Tackling cattle-grazing abuses on the public lands where they lived, they leveraged protection for species like the southwestern willow flycatcher into orders to remove cows from hundreds of miles of vulnerable desert streams; with their campaigns to protect goshawks and owls, they shut down major timber operations throughout Arizona and New Mexico and brought an end to large-scale industrial logging in the heritage public lands of the arid Southwest.
And that was just for starters.
The Center’s innovation was to systematically and ambitiously use biological data, legal expertise, and the citizen petition provision of the powerful Endangered Species Act to obtain sweeping, legally binding new protections for animals, plants, and their habitat — first in New Mexico, then throughout the Southwest, next through all 11 western states and into other key areas across the country. With each passing year the Center has expanded its territory, which now extends to the protection of species throughout the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and international regions as remote as the North and South poles. As our range grew, and first tens, then hundreds of species gained protection as a result of our groundbreaking petitions, lawsuits, policy advocacy, and outreach to media, we went from living and working on a shoestring to having offices around the country — from relying on donated time from pro bono attorneys at large firms to building a full-time staff of dozens of prominent environmental lawyers and scientists who work exclusively on our campaigns to save species and the places they need to survive.
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