President's View: Healing the Harm from Natural Disasters

Restoring nature’s defenses ahead of the next storm

  • Collin O’Mara, President & Chief Executive Officer
  • Conservation
  • Nov 30, 2017

In September, National Wildlife Federation President and CEO Collin O’Mara joined other leaders at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to support strengthening the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

THE YEAR 2017 will be remembered in part for catastrophic natural disasters, including unprecedented hurricanes, raging wildfires, massive algal blooms and prolonged droughts. Many of these—along with the growing risk of species extinctions—are exacerbated by a changing climate. Because we mourn the devastation such events cause wildlife, habitat and people, the National Wildlife Federation takes these crises personally—especially now.

When hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria raked across the southern United States and the Caribbean, they scoured habitat that NWF and our affiliates work hard to protect—and ruined the homes of members of our NWF family. Particularly hard-hit were our affiliates, the Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña, Inc. in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands Conservation Society in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which works in St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. Across this region people suffered from power losses, limited supplies of clean water and the heartbreak of pulverized homes and businesses.

Hurricane devastation to wildlife habitat also was severe, but NWF immediately began to address it. We worked with partners to recover manatees and sea turtles that washed ashore in Florida and to restore critical habitat for migratory birds and other at-risk species in Texas. In the Virgin Islands, we’re working to restore habitat lost among thousands of felled mangroves. And in Puerto Rico, we’re helping raise funds to support restoration of tropical forests and salt flats.

Meanwhile, the federal response to these devastating storms was simply insufficient compared to the needs. That’s why the Federation has redoubled our efforts to urge decision makers in Washington to focus on addressing these needs and a host of other escalating crises that are affecting our nation’s natural resources.

Among our efforts, we’re urging lawmakers to ensure hurricane recovery packages prioritize natural defenses against storms; to remove incentives in the National Flood Insurance Program that encourage unsafe, flood-prone development; to address the wildfire funding crisis and improve forest management; to reduce water pollution arising from policies such as the ethanol mandate; and to secure dedicated funding for proactive wildlife conservation to save species at risk—all as the Federation continues building bipartisan support for climate action.

The personal pain of natural disasters made 2017 a particularly tough year. But this pain reminds us that it has never been more important to be good at what we do—saving America’s wildlife together and making our natural resources more resilient. Thank you for standing with us.

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Follow Collin O’Mara on Twitter at To share your thoughts and opinions, email him at

More from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation:

The National Wildlife Federation: Our Work »
Helping Kids Cope with Natural Disasters »
The U.S. Biodiversity Crisis »
New Funding Plan: Song of Salvation? »
Scorched Earth »
Foul-Water Season: Summer Algal Blooms»
NWF Wildlife Guide: Threats to Wildlife »

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