Environmental Hero: David Parsons

Image credit: Courtesy of Project Coyote

Environmental Hero: David Parsons

David Parsons envisions a world where wolves can live in 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 cultivating the necessary biodiversity that keeps their ecosystem in balance. Most importantly, humans would accept wolves as essential community members and not as threats.

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). In his tenure, he oversaw the Mexican gray wolf recovery program. He has never seen the situation for wolves be as dire as it is today.

Historically, wolves were distributed all around the Northern Hemisphere and were once the most abundant large predator on Earth.

Image credit: Courtesy of Project Coyote

Wolves are critical to the health and biodiversity of their environment as apex predators. By limiting large herbivore populations, wolves prevent overgrazing by preying on these species. Herbivores then become more alert and instinctually keep moving, so they spend less time eating in one place.

This feeding migration further promotes plant community diversity and complexity, allowing for vegetation expansion. The more variety in the plant community, the more habitats will be available for various species, including birds and rodents.

Despite their ecological importance, the Trump administration in October 2020 issued a politically motivated regulation to D-list all gray wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act. This legislation resulted in an unscientific and premature action that gave management to the states and resulted in a massive increase in the killing of wolves.

With many gray wolf subspecies close to extinction, this action drew Parsons out of retirement. Along with many other wildlife organizations and conservation activists, he fought for the species and their essential role in the ecosystem.

In February 2022, their work proved successful as a federal judge reversed the Trump administration’s decision to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list in the continental United States.

Parsons’ efforts continue. As the primary author of the Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican Gray Wolf in Arizona and New Mexico, he wants to improve protections significantly 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, Parsons still works to protect all wolf species. Currently, he is directing the FWS to develop a science-based national recovery plan for wolves required by the Endangered Species Act.

His mission is to protect these marvelous species directly tied to the health and wellbeing of the ecosystems in which they live.

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