Image credit: Courtesy of Project Coyote

Environmental Hero: David Parsons

David Parsons envisions a world where Mexican gray wolves can return to their natural habitats and roam free without politically enforced barriers and persecution where they are forced to wear radio collars. In this way, wolf populations would form naturally further improving the health of their prey and thus cultivate the necessary biodiversity that keeps their ecosystem in balance. Most importantly though, is humans accepting wolves as essential members of the community and not as a threat. For over three decades Parsons has devoted his life to wolf conservation as a wildlife biologist working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) during which he oversaw the Mexican gray wolf recovery program. He has never seen the situation for wolves be as dire as it is today. 

Image credit: Courtesy of Project Coyote

Historically, wolves were distributed all around the Northern Hemisphere and were once the most abundant large predator on Earth. Wolves are critically important to the health and biodiversity of their environment as apex predators. By doing their instinctual “job” of limiting large herbivore populations, wolves prevent overgrazing by directly preying on these species which then keeps the herbivores more alert and instinctually urges them to keep moving so they spend less time eating in one place. This in turn promotes plant community diversity and complexity which allows for the expansion of vegetation. The more diversity there is in the plant community, the more habitats will be available for a variety of species, including birds and rodents. 

Despite their ecological importance, the Trump administration issued a politically motivated regulation to D-list all gray wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act. This resulted in an unscientific and premature action that gave the management of the wolves to the state resulting in a massive increase in the killing of wolves. With many gray wolf subspecies close to extinction, it drew Parsons out of retirement. As the primary author of the Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican Gray Wolf in Arizona and New Mexico, he wants to greatly improve protections for all wolves. As the Science Advisory Board member of Project Coyote, he continues to champion the progress of the gray wolf recovery program.

Receiving many accolades for his work, Parsons was awarded the Outstanding Conservation Leadership Award from the Wilburforce Foundation in May 2008. He also received the Mike Seidman Memorial Award from the Sky Island Alliance for his conservation achievements. Today, he still works unremittingly to get the Secretary of the Interior and the Deputy Director of the FWS to fully protect wolves and put them back on the list of endangered species. Currently, he is directing the FWS to develop a science-based national recovery plan for wolves that would be required by the Endangered Species Act. His mission is to protect this essential species that ultimately helps conserve the ecosystem for us all.