By Doyle Irvin, American Forests

Just prior to Thanksgiving, we announced our Home for the Holidays initiative, pledging to raise funds for wildlife habitat restoration projects across the U.S. Thanks to a gift from one of our generous members, up to $30,000 dollars raised through the campaign would be matched. The campaign focused on five unique wildlife areas — each tied to a threatened or endangered species — where we are committed to restoring critical habitat of not only the species we spotlighted, but the thousands of other wildlife in those ecosystems.

The Home for the Holidays superstars were as follows:

  • Grizzly bears in whitebark pine habitats across Yellowstone Park, Wyoming
  • Kirtland’s warblers in jack pine habitats throughout Michigan
  • Salmon in riparian (river-bordering) woodlands in the Pacific Northwest
  • Gopher tortoise in longleaf pine forests across the Southeast
  • Ocelots in Talmaulipan thornscrub throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas

You may be asking why we chose these specific species to help. These sobering statistics will explain:

  • The grizzly bear population is now at 3 percent of what it was a century ago.
  • Male Kirtland’s warblers still number less than 2,500 total worldwide.
  • Pacific salmon are now considered extinct in 40 percent of their traditional rivers.
  • Four percent of the gopher tortoise’s longleaf pine forest still stands.
  • Only around 50 ocelots exist in the United States currently.

These species are in many ways keystones for their ecosystems. The relationship between grizzly bears and salmon may seem fairly straightforward on the surface — bears eat salmon — but did you know that the fertilizing nutrients from salmon remains have been found in trees up to 1,600 feet away from the stream the bear caught the fish in? And, did you know that more than 360 other species rely on the tunnels dug by the gopher tortoise for protection from fires and predators? These are just two examples of the many ways habitat inhabitants rely upon each other for survival, and they clarify why it is so important for our planet that wildlife have safe homes.

You may know all of this already, and want us to get to the point: How did the campaign do? Well, we won’t keep you waiting any longer. We are proud to announce that we vastly exceeded our $30,000 goal! From the launch of the campaign through Dec. 31, individual donations from people, like you, have totaled more than $100,000! (And even more donations are still being calculated at the moment.) This means that we can make even further commitments to the protection and restoration of vital wildernesses and habitats across the United States. We thank you so very much for your generous support!