The arrival of Earth Day offers a good time to remember that the most significant achievements of the environmental movement often come from grassroots activists who are on the frontlines of stopping the despoilers of nature. To emphasize that crucial point, the Fund for Wild Nature created its Grassroots Activist of the Year Award to celebrate bold action to defend wildlife and wild places. This year’s award winner is Denise Boggs, director of Conservation Congress.
Denise epitomizes the spirit of boldness that leads to real success in protecting wild nature. She founded Conservation Congress in 2004 to protect places and species that needed uncompromising defense. Conservation Congress is a great example of a small group having a big impact.
One main area of focus for Conservation Congress is the national forests in northern California that are home to the Northern spotted owl. The spotted owl is designated as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, but the Forest Service continues to aggressively develop new logging projects in the critical habitat and late successional reserves that were ostensibly created to protect the owl’s forest dwellings.
Denise began vigorously applying the citizen enforcement provisions of the Endangered Species Act in order to stop the Forest Service’s logging projects in spotted owl habitat in northern California. Her willingness to take these steps is leading to big changes. Conservation Congress is currently in court challenging seven timber sales on three national forests. The Forest Service has recently halted all of the timber sales being litigated by Conservation Congress while it reevaluates potential harms to the spotted owl from the proposed logging.
Last year, the Forest Service withdrew the “Salt” timber sale on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest after Conservation Congress filed suit. This project would have harmed over 4000 acres of forest in a watershed that has already been heavily logged. The impact of Conservation Congress’s work is abundantly evident on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. In 2007, the Shasta-Trinity had by far the highest level of logging of any national forest in California. Five years later, thanks to Denise’s committed defense of that forest, logging levels there have plummeted by over 63 percent!
Denise Boggs first began challenging misbehavior by the Forest Service in the late 1980s when she was working for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. There she coordinated the first multi-agency GIS analysis of elk habitat in Montana. Even though the Forest Service was participating in the study, it continued to propose numerous timber sales that would damage key elk habitat, so Denise decided to take action. She filed appeals of these timber sales as a private citizen and provided key information to a local environmental organization challenging the logging. Soon Denise decided to do environmental activism full-time. Throughout the 1990s, she worked with a variety of grassroots groups on wildlife and ecosystem protection.
In 1998, Denise founded the Utah Environmental Congress to provide a bold voice on national forest issues in Utah. As executive director of UEC, she successfully challenged numerous logging projects. By the time she stepped down as director in order to create Conservation Congress, the volume of timber sold from the national forests in Utah had fallen by 66 percent! Since 2004, Denise has served on the board of directors of UEC, and UEC has continued to be an important grassroots conservation advocate in Utah. For example, in February, the Forest Service withdrew the “Iron Springs” logging project in response to an appeal filed by the UEC, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and Native Ecosystems Council. This project would have logged over eight square miles of forest, including old-growth and proposed wilderness.
In addition to forest protection, both Conservation Congress and UEC have also been involved in wolf advocacy and litigation. As is characteristic of the most effective grassroots activists, Denise has been unabashed in criticizing political deal-making that sacrifices core environmental safeguards, such as a legislative rider in 2012 by Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) that stripped Endangered Species Act protection for wolves. In one news article, Denise stated, “This wasn’t even about the wolf. It was about keeping Tester in office. Obama and Salazar calculated that they could sacrifice the wolf—and the ESA—in order to keep Tester’s seat in Congress.” Conservation Congress is currently a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit to restore protections for wolves in Wyoming. Meanwhile, UEC is working on restoring wolves in Utah.
Both Conservation Congress and Utah Environmental Congress are doing this important work with financial support from the Fund for Wild Nature. The Fund for Wild Nature was created by grassroots activists to help fund the boldest grassroots groups, knowing how difficult it can be for these groups to get assistance from large foundations, and also recognizing how even a small amount of money for these groups can lead to big results. Unlike other foundations, the Fund for Wild Nature depends entirely on donations from the public, which it then redistributes to support worthy grassroots biodiversity protection groups throughout North America. In addition to providing grants, the Fund sponsors the Grassroots Activist of the Year Award as another way to promote bold activism. The Fund is honored to offer the award this year to Denise Boggs. Through her many accomplishments with Conservation Congress and Utah Environmental Congress, Denise Boggs demonstrates the power and effectiveness of bold grassroots environmental activism.
Douglas Bevington is the author of The Rebirth of Environmentalism: Grassroots Activism from the Spotted Owl to the Polar Bear (Island Press, 2009) and is a member of the all-volunteer board of directors of the Fund for Wild Nature.