As we look ahead to 2021, Advocates for the West is filled with gratitude for our supporters (you!), our partners, and each other. This year presented challenges we never could have imagined. But thanks to you, our conservation community, we are still fighting – and winning! – for the West.
Advocates for the West looks forward to welcoming a new era for our nation with the incoming Biden-Harris Administration, and we’re excited to build on our 2020 victories in the year ahead to furthersecure lasting protections for the West’s public lands, waterways, fish and wildlife.
We hope you enjoy this look back at our staff’s highlights of 2020. With deepest gratitude, we wish you and yours a holiday season of health, happiness and joy!
Anna Demetriades, Director of Communications & Outreach
Looking back on 2020, I am amazed by the resilience and determination of our staff and community. Soon after we began working remotely, our team wasted no time finding new and creative ways to connect with our partners and supporters. We had to cancel a year’s worth of events scheduled across the Pacific Northwest to share the splendor of the Confluence Project – our collaboration with artist Rachel Teannalach – but that didn’t stop us from bringing her artwork to your homes through online showings and within the pages of Case Notes. We could not gather together with you in person to share our latest work, but those potential missed opportunities transformed into a new series – the Social Distancing Hour monthly webinar (watch past productions here). Now we connect regularly with supporters across the country. The challenges presented to us all this year is one for the record books, but thanks to the determination of our team and the support of our community, we are stronger than ever!
Madeline D’Onfro, Operations Manager
While 2020 was difficult for so many reasons, there have been bright lights throughout the year. One that stands out to me has been the growth of Sage Society, Advocates for the West’s monthly donor program. This year we increased our membership to 66 generous donors from across the US, with giving amounts ranging from $5 a month to $100 a month. Each of these monthly gifts helps fund our work protecting the public lands, precious wildlife, and open spaces that make the American West so beautiful. It has been such an honor to see this increased support and a reminder of the altruism in our community. Cheers to 2021! Find more information on Sage Society here.
Bryan Hurlbutt, Staff Attorney
In 2020, I was pleased to secure a victory overturning the Forest Service’s approval of the Kilgore Mine Exploration. Mining company Excellon Resources (formerly Otis Gold) wants to build an extensive network of roads and drill 24/7 on our public lands in the Centennial Mountains in Eastern Idaho in hopes of striking gold. Thanks to the groundwork laid by our clients – Idaho Conservation League and Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) – and our work in court, we stopped the Exploration… for now. But the battle isn’t over. Excellon and the Forest Service are already back at it, working to re-approve the Exploration. So please stay tuned and watch for ways you can get involved to join us and our allies in this battle to keep massive, open-pit gold mines out of the Centennials! Find out more about the project and watch an over-flight video of the mine site on GYC’s website: greateryellowstone.org
Laird Lucas, Executive Director
As 2020 comes to a close, I am especially grateful for our staff. We began working remotely in March, and despite the fears and uncertainties we all faced as a result of the pandemic, our team never skipped a beat. We won a number of landmark victories this year (check out the latest on our Wins page), brought significant new cases on behalf of over 40 client-partners (see our most recent filings on our Case page), and found new and innovative ways to connect remotely with our many supporters. I have always felt that Advocates for the West’s biggest strength is our ability to be nimble, creative and strategic. 2020 has shown me just how true this is. I am excited to leverage our hard-fought successes won during the Trump Administration and build on those victories with the incoming Biden-Harris Administration. We are energized and encouraged by this new era for our nation, and ready to keep winning for the West!
Andrew Missel, Staff Attorney
I’m proud of the way we were able to help our clients (WaterWatch of Oregon, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and WildEarth Guardians) push back against the Army Corps of Engineers’ flawed plan to reallocate the water in the Willamette River Basin. Had that plan gone through as the Corps proposed, it would have had a serious negative impact on threatened salmon and steelhead species, and it would have impaired the ongoing Endangered Species Act consultation over the operation of the dams in the Willamette Basin. But thanks to a coordinated litigation and lobbying effort, we were able to get Congress to modify the reallocation plan in key ways that will help fish and preserve the integrity of the ESA consultation process. Find out more about this case here.
Aimee Moran, Deputy Director
I am grateful for you, our Advocates for the West supporters, for standing strong with us this year amidst so many challenges and great uncertainty. Early in 2020, when the world began responding to the pandemic, we prepared for the worst. I am amazed and so happy to share that not only did our worst case scenario planning not come to pass, instead we are ending 2020 with more conservation advocates (you!) standing with us than ever, and donations up over last year. Advocates for the West is entering 2021 with strength and we are energized to fight the conservation battles before us. Thank you! We couldn’t do it without each of you.
Lizzy Potter, Staff Attorney
In 2020, I was grateful to join forces with new and existing clients along the western slope of Colorado to protect sensitive water resources, treasured public lands, and recreational opportunities. We filed suit against the Trump Administration to stop the Bureau of Land Management’s expansion of oil and gas activities on public and private lands interspersed throughout local communities in this area. I look forward to fighting the agency’s plan and elevating local voices and conservation values in this area during 2021 and beyond. Find out more about this exciting new case here.
Laurie Rule, Senior Attorney
The highlight of 2020 for me was our summary judgment victory in our Willamette Dams case. The court gave us a big win on all of our legal claims, finding that the Army Corps of Engineers’ operation of 8 dams in the Upper Willamette River Basin was causing the continued decline of threatened salmon and steelhead. Now we are urging the court to order the Corps to change some of its operations to make them less harmful to the fish. The court’s strong ruling this summer was a welcome rebuke to the Corps that will hopefully result in significant changes benefitting the fish. Read the court decision and find out more about the case here.
Sarah Stellberg, Staff Attorney
We have much to celebrate this year, but I’m most proud of our efforts to block reckless oil and gas leasing on public lands. In February, Advocates for the West won a sweeping victory that vacated over 600 oil and gas leases in priority sage-grouse habitat across the West, roughly a quarter of all leases issued by the Trump Administration at that time. That same decision also restored mandatory public comment periods for future BLM leasing decisions, a not-so-subtle reminder to BLM that public lands exist for the benefit of all Americans. We’ll keep fighting this year to overturn the hundreds of oil and gas leases that remain. Read the court decision and find out more about the case here.
Rebecca Strauss, Legal Fellow
This year, I graduated from law school, passed the Idaho Bar, and joined the Advocates for the West team. Since joining the team in September, I am most proud of my work trying to protect the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area in southwestern Utah. Todd Tucci and I are leading a coalition of environmental groups trying to prevent a four-lane highway from being built through the heart of this special place, which happens to be prime habitat for the threatened Mojave desert tortoise.