By: Megan Mueller, Senior Conservation Biologist and Interim Executive Director
Our executive director, Tehri Parker, is retiring. Our staff and board members would like to wish Tehri well in her next adventure and are glad that she will have time to get out and enjoy the mountains and wildlife that she worked so hard to protect. We wanted to take this opportunity to thank Tehri for her hard work and highlight some of the accomplishments Rocky Mountain Wild (RMW) has celebrated with Tehri’s leadership over the past ten years.
Wildlife Movement Corridors
We protected Wolf Creek Pass, one of the ten most important wildlife linkages in the United States, from development for ten years with Friends of Wolf Creek.
Wolf Creek Pass is recognized as one of the ten most important wildlife linkages in the United States. It has been threatened by the development of a 10,000 person “village” since the development was first proposed in 1986. One of RMW’s predecessor organizations, Colorado Wild, started fighting the development in 1999. Under Tehri’s leadership, and with the help of Friends of Wolf Creek, we filed and won a number of legal challenges and protected Wolf Creek Pass from development for ten years. We won a challenge to the 2015 land exchange decision that would have facilitated the development. We won two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking government transparency in the Wolf Creek decision-making process. We are waiting for a court decision on a challenge to stop the development by preventing the Forest Service from providing access across public land to allow for the development. We are proud that our coalition has kept Wolf Creek Pass wild for 23 years.
We identified I-70 on East Vail Pass as a top priority for the construction of wildlife crossing structures and made significant strides toward building the structures.
Our Summit County Safe Passages (SCSP) coalition identified I-70 on East Vail Pass as a top priority for the construction of wildlife crossing structures, based, in part, on five years of research conducted by RMW and Denver Zoo documenting an abundance of wildlife in the area. We worked with our SCSP partners to complete a feasibility study for this project, including crossing designs and cost estimates. We are now working with our partners to raise funds to construct the crossing structures that wildlife need to move safely across I-70 on East Vail Pass.
We demonstrated the effectiveness of wildlife crossing structures on State Highway 9.
We were part of a team that monitored wildlife crossings, including Colorado’s first wildlife overpass, built to help wildlife cross State Highway 9 south of Kremmling. Our team demonstrated that the wildlife crossings helped decrease wildlife-vehicle crashes by 92% and wildlife deaths by 90% relative to pre-construction levels.
We built a robust community science program with hundreds of active volunteers who contribute to several research initiatives informing efforts to conserve wildlife in the region, including the Colorado Pika Project and the Colorado Corridors Project.
Volunteers with the Colorado Pika Project study and monitor pika at more than 200 sites each year, collecting data that helps researchers predict how climate change may impact the American pika and alpine ecosystems. Results have been published in Nature Climate Change and used to inform the management of pikas and alpine ecosystems in the face of climate change. We’ve brought national media attention to pikas as an indicator for the advancement of climate change and are planning to launch a new carbon offset partnership that will protect wildlife from climate change by sequestering carbon. CPP is a partnership between RMW and Denver Zoo.
Volunteers with the Colorado Corridors Project help us monitor wildlife near I-70 East Vail Pass. We have used the data they collect to promote the need for wildlife crossing structures at this location, inform the specifics of crossing structure design and construction, and eventually to serve as a baseline for monitoring the success of the crossing structures once built. Data collected to date helped confirm I-70 on East Vail Pass as a priority for the construction of wildlife structures and informed a feasibility study for the project. CCP is a partnership between RMW and Denver Zoo.
This year, we will launch Colorado Bat Watch, a new community science initiative that will bring people together to generate new knowledge about bats and conserve bats and their habitat in Colorado.
We supported the conservation community with geospatial mapping and analysis that increased the effectiveness of campaigns.
We supported the conservation community in the effort to map and document lands with wilderness characteristics across Colorado, which resulted in the Bureau of Land Management adding at least a million acres to their inventories of wild lands.
We also provided GIS and mapping expertise to support the Colorado conservation community’s efforts to develop conservation alternatives and comments on four long-term management plans for millions of acres of public lands in several National Forests and Bureau of Land Management Field offices in Colorado.
We used the newest science and mapping techniques to develop a model that identifies current and future climate corridors and refugia for wildlife in the South Platte and Arkansas river watersheds with Wild Connections. This model will provide the foundation for a plan for protecting habitat and maintaining biodiversity within this 6.7 million acre landscape.
We used interactive mapping and visual storytelling using story maps to educate the public about our work (e.g., I-70 East Vail Pass Wildlife Crossings and Colorado’s 8 Billion Dollar Oil and Gas Crisis).
We helped defer more than 2.5 million acres of public land from oil and gas development.
We provided the conservation community with tools to effectively advocate to protect wildlife habitat and other natural resources from oil and gas development. We created an oil and gas toolbox for activists, screened all oil and gas lease sales in the region for conflicts with wildlife habitat and other natural resources, and shared the results with the conservation community and the public. Over the past ten years, this work has enabled Rocky Mountain Wild and other conservation organizations to prevent more than 2.5 million acres of public lands from being leased for oil and gas drilling and increased public engagement in the oil and gas leasing process.
We helped at-risk species gain protection under the Endangered Species Act.
We engaged in advocacy and won lawsuits that resulted in Gunnison sage-grouse being protected under the Endangered Species Act. We laid the groundwork for gaining protection for wolverines, white-tailed prairie dogs, and rare wildflowers. We also won lawsuits that required the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a recovery plan and reconsider designating critical habitat for lynx in Colorado.
We improved protections for Gunnison sage-grouse habitat.
We successfully advocated for improved protections for Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in several land management plans. We developed a science-based proposal asking the Bureau of Land Management to protect critical Gunnison sage-grouse habitat on public land and filed a pending lawsuit to require the Bureau of Land Management to consider our proposal. We also filed two pending lawsuits to prevent oil and gas development in critical habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse.
Partnerships & Community
Tehri recognized that protecting biodiversity is a big job, and we can’t do it alone. She prioritized building effective partnerships and a diverse community of educators, students, activists, philanthropists, and community scientists to help us make our vision a reality.
We built and strengthened successful strategic partnerships to more effectively achieve our conservation goals.
With Tehri’s leadership, we built and strengthened strategic partnerships and coalitions. From Summit County Safe Passages to Friends of Wolf Creek to community science partnerships with the Denver Zoo (Colorado Pika Project & Colorado Corridors Project), we have leveraged partnerships and collaborations to more effectively advance our mission.
We created opportunities for a diverse community to engage in our work and help us make our vision a reality. Tehri’s many ideas to involve people in our work included Colorado Endangered Species Week, our Gender Advancement and Parity in STEM program, and the Wild-I-70 Audio Tour.
Six years ago, Tehri envisioned a new week of events surrounding Endangered Species Day that eventually culminated into Colorado Endangered Species Week. The week’s events are free or low-cost to the public and include educational events and advocacy opportunities to protect the plant and animal species that are at-risk here in Colorado.
In 2016, Tehri thought up a new program designed to reduce gender bias in our field, called 100 Women for the Wild. It has since been renamed the Gender Advancement and Parity in STEM (GAPS) program and supports paid internships and provides empowering real-world work experiences for people from marginalized genders exploring careers in biology and science! Over the course of the program, we’ve been able to fund four internships for people from marginalized genders!
Tehri also conceived of the Wild I-70 Audio Tour, launched in 2018, which educates travelers about the wildlife and wild lands along the I-70 mountain corridor from Golden to Glenwood Springs. To date over 3,000 people have listened to portions of the tour. The audio tour introduced people to issues related to habitat connectivity and built support for the construction of wildlife crossing structures along I-70.
Our staff, board, supporters, and Colorado’s wildlife and wild places all thank you for your work and wish you well as you move on to your next adventure!