Western Environmental Law Center Programs
WELC has a highly experienced team of attorneys and policy experts. We work close to the ground, with offices in Eugene, Oregon; Helena, Montana; Taos, New Mexico; and satellite offices in Portland and Seattle. As a non-profit public interest environmental law firm, WELC relies on charitable gifts from individuals, families, and foundations to accomplish our mission.
Defending and restoring the natural heritage of the West
The West is defined by its natural heritage of wildlife, rivers, forests, and wildlands. Since its inception, WELC has worked to preserve and restore unique characteristics of the West, including wildlife species and their habitat, free-flowing rivers, and majestic wild landscapes. The Wildlands program has five campaigns: protecting forests; preserving wilderness; defending wildlife corridors; ensuring clean, free-flowing rivers; and advocating for responsible off-road vehicle use.
Protecting and recovering wildlife species indigenous to the West
Understanding that the West’s iconic wildlife is key to the region’s future, WELC is dedicated to preserving and restoring healthy, functioning ecosystems and the native wildlife species that depend on them. Our Wildlife program focuses on protecting threatened and endangered species of the Pacific Northwest: the Canadian lynx, the wolverine, wild salmon, and the Northern Spotted Owl. We are also deeply involved in efforts to protect the Pacific gray wolf in Washington.
Climate and Energy Program
Fighting dirty energy and promoting a clean energy future in the West
Climate change is threatening the West’s special places, waters, wildlife, and communities. In the Pacific Northwest, these consequences are manifesting themselves right now as ocean acidification, a byproduct of climate change, threatens the region’s shellfish industry. Addressing climate change effectively means creating and enforcing smart laws and policies that harness the West’s spirit of ingenuity. WELC is working in the courts to establish robust climate and energy policies, which will avoid catastrophic climate change and ensure the resilience of our ecological systems–systems critical to the health of our wildlands and communities.
Recent Successes and Current Challenges
Defending Washington’s Pacific gray wolf population
WELC is assisting the conservation community in its effort to ensure that the Washington State Wolf Recovery Plan—adopted after an extensive public review, and supported by the overwhelming majority of Washingtonians—is followed and implemented by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
In summer 2012, WDFW gave in to political pressure from the cattle industry and exterminated an entire pack of wolves that cattlemen alleged were predating on cattle. In response to the cattle industry’s allegations, WDFW did not follow the carefully crafted procedures of the Recovery Plan, and instead killed the wolf pack at the demands of a few vocal Washington cattle producers and a handful of state representatives.
WELC is working to ensure that history does not repeat itself and that wolves are given the opportunity to retake their place in the landscape. Our legal team is working with WDFW to establish better animal husbandry requirements and working in the legislature to defeat proposed bills that would water down the Recovery Plan. We also are advocating for legislation that would raise additional funds to compensate ranchers who engage in efforts to reduce wolf/cattle interactions and working to increase fines for illegal wolf poaching.
Fighting climate change in Washington
WELC’s legal team is working on groundbreaking climate change litigation. Seven young Washingtonians have filed a lawsuit challenging the State of Washington’s failure to protect the state’s public resources from the effects of climate change. The lawsuit seeks to force Washington to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to avert catastrophic climate change. WELC has filed a legal brief in the case on behalf of more than 20 environmental law professors from across the country.
The fate of the youths’ lawsuit is now before the Washington Court of Appeals. The Washington case is one of a series of coordinated legal actions across the country to compel government action on climate change. WELC is also representing youth clients in climate change litigation in Arizona and Oregon.
Although the State of Washington has publicly recognized the need to address climate change, it has failed to assert leadership and take appropriate action to protect the state’s critical natural resources. Thanks to this innovative legal action, the Washington Court of Appeals now has the opportunity to review the youth petitioners’ case and declare that their use, access to, and enjoyment of Washington’s natural resources is a right protected by law.