Defenders of Wildlife is a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity that was founded in 1947 with the initial purpose of banning trapping of wild wolves. The group aims to protect wildlife and their habitats through program development, policy advocacy and litigation. Defenders has also embraced climate change as a focus area.
During the 2000s, Defenders of Wildlife leadership created political action committees and a 501(c)(4) action fund so the group could engage in political activity as well as education and advocacy.
Founding and Mission
Defenders of Wildlife was founded in 1947, first as the Defenders of Furbearers, which targeted steel jaw leg-hold traps and poisons used on wolves. The mission statement on the organization website and IRS 990 tax forms describes Defenders of Wildlife as “a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.”
Defenders of Wildlife relies on the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) as its primary tool for animal and habitat protection. The removal rate of animals from the endangered species list is about three percent, or 49 of the 1,600 animals since the law’s enactment in 1973. The group, however, strongly opposes legislative efforts to reform the ESA through calls to action.
Other programs supported by Defenders of Wildlife include reimbursement to ranchers and farmers for losses incurred by wolf attacks on livestock. Tax records also show that starting in 2009, the organization also began contributing to other environmentalist groups including the Wilderness Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council for energy projects.
Defenders of Wildlife is governed by an 18-member Board of Directors, seven of whom are executive board members. The board chair is Judith Posnikoff, the managing director of Portfolio Construction Group and manager at Pacific Alternative Asset Management Company, LLC, a firm which she co-founded in 2000.
Jamie Rappaport Clark is CEO and President of Defenders of Wildlife. She was previously the vice president of Defenders. She was also appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as Director of the US. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). FWS is the federal agency which enforces the Endangered Species Act. The Chief Operation Officer is Jim Stofan.
The rest of the 57-member staff work in the following departments and in field offices around the country: Landscape Conservation, International Conservation, Government and External Affairs, Field Conservation, Conservation Policy, Conservation Law, and Communications.
In 2016, Defenders of Wildlife received 69 percent of its funding from grants and contributions; 15 percent from bequests, trusts, and split interests; nine percent from contributed services; 4 percent from royalties and other earned income; and 3 percent from income investments.
Between 2005 and 2013, Defenders of Wildlife received $1,302,000 in grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for the stated purposes of: help in protecting the Endangered Species Act, work to maintain a moratorium on offshore drilling on the outer Continental Shelf, the Federal Lands Conservation Portfolio project, strategic planning, projects to secure and implement solar energy zones in the West.
In 2015, Defenders of Wildlife staff members Erin Lieberman, Eliza Cava and Rob Peters served on an advisory council of a renewable energy study for the Sonoran Institute funded by the Hewlett Foundation. Solar Energy Zones were among the study’s recommendations for Arizona to implement the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.
The organization listed contributors on its annual reports up through 2008. In addition to the Hewlett Foundation, donors of $100,000 or more have included the Bailey Wildlife Foundation, Biophilia Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Darcy and Richard Kopcho, The Henry Philip Kraft Family Memorial Fund, Wendy P. McCaw Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Park Foundation, Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, Bill and Alice Roe, Turner Foundation, Wilburforce Foundation, the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, the New York Community Trust, and the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust.
In 1999, the organization began using professional firms to assist in fundraising through telemarketing and direct mail. Donations that year rose 28 percent to a record $17.5 million, with net assets reaching a record $14.5 million. Defenders of Wildlife listed $32,806,000 in revenue in its 2016 annual report, and $26,164,000 in net assets. According to tax documents, fundraising firms used by Defenders of Wildlife have included Donor Services Group, SCA Direct, Share Group, Harris Direct, Fineline, Public Interest Communications, and Production Solutions, Inc.
Defenders of Wildlife maintains a permanent endowment fund, valued at $1,447,892, according to the latest figures available from 2015. Tax records show that in 2013, the total endowment fund was $7,730,724, with $6,283,584 in expenditures on facilities and programs.
Jamie Rappaport Clark – President, Defenders of Wildlife 2011-present. Clark is also a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director and former vice president of Defenders. She was promoted to president in 2011, replacing Rodger Schlickeisen. She was also treasurer of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, a political action committee (PAC) from its statement of organization dated October 5, 2011 until the fund was terminated on October 1, 2015. Clark is also listed as a principal of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund 527 Account, a political action committee that was operational from June 20, 2003 and was the fund’s president when it was dissolved on September 30, 2012.
Rodger Schlickeisen – Defenders of Wildlife president 1991-2011. A head-hunting firm recruited Schlickeisen to run the organization in 1991. He also founded the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund in 2001 so the group could do political campaign work. Schlickeisen was also president of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund 527 Account and Americans for Conservation, a 527 political action committee.
Joseph A. Zillo – Former senior vice president of finance and administration and chief financial officer for Defenders of Wildlife. Zillo also served as assistant treasurer for the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund 527 Account and Americans for Conservation. He has been the CFO of the NAFSA Association of International Educators since October 2012, and has held a similar position with the Center for Public Integrity.
Ed Asner – Actor and Defenders of Wildlife spokesman and board member.
“ExxonExpose”- In July 2005, Defenders of Wildlife co-founded a coalition of public interest and environmental groups to protest oil company Exxon. In addition to Defenders, the coalition included Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), Friends of the Earth, the Union of Concerned Scientists, MoveOn.org, National Environmental Trust, Alaska Oceans Program, and the Alaska Wilderness League. From 2005-2006, the coalition organized demonstrations, boycotts and called on Exxon to invest more money into clean energy research and scrap efforts to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The last activity recorded on the Exxpose Exxon website was in 2006.
Sarah Palin – The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund launched an attack ad campaign in 2008 on then-Alaska Governor and Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin for her support of aerial hunting of wolves as a way to protect moose and caribou populations in Alaska. Celebrity Ashley Judd, who was a listed as a Defenders board member in 2009, ignited a feud with Palin after starring in a video for the Defenders’ campaign. The campaign resurfaced in 2010, when Defenders publicly opposed a docuseries called “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” planned for the TLC network. Rodger Schlickeisen, who was president of both Defenders of Wildlife and the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, wrote a letter to Discovery Communications, the parent company to TLC, urging the network not air the series. Nine episodes of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” aired on TLC from 2010 to 2011.