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  • Writer's pictureStaci-lee Sherwood

Fall from grace – from saving wildlife to exploiting them for cash

Updated: Oct 29, 2022

By Staci-lee Sherwood

Back in the 1990’s Defenders of Wildlife was the non-profit that got things done, at least for wolves. During the 90s they were the face of wolf conservation, helping to restore them back in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho. The group promoted a program for ranchers who lost livestock to verified predation were financially compensated. This helped smooth over some of the opposition to wolf re-introduction. That was 30 years ago.

Since losing their legal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) wolf populations throughout the US have been decimated to where they should be re-listed. In response to this wolves were, temporarily, relisted but only in a few states. The three main wolf hating/hunting states; Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, have refused to have them relisted and continue to hunt them. The re-introduction program had been a great success and shining example of conservation. It was a restoration from an atrocity that occurred a century ago when wolves had been exterminated in the lower 48 states. Now it looks like we are circling back to where uncontrolled hunting could exterminate them again.

For years I heard rumors about Defenders of Wildlife supporting hunting and they do, even of wolves. In the 1980s and most of the 1990s it was impossible to verify rumors. Now with a few clicks truth can be exposed to the world. In an interview from 2014 Defenders of Wildlife defends hunting wolves….yes you read that right.

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This was going on in 2012

So where is Defenders of Wildlife now? The organization that had once been the face of success and protection for endangered species is glaringly ineffective and missing in action. Of course not all endangered species received help. Our wild horses have never gotten help from them despite living in the same states as the wolves. Despite years of pleas by advocates Defenders of Wildlife has done nothing to help them. Wild horses aren’t the only species they have screwed over while asking for donations.

Note that while their revenue is listed as $34 million their salaries equal more than $13 million. If you’re donating to them thinking the money goes to save animals….more than 1/3 goes for salaries and the rest is divvied up between fundraising costs, advertising, lawsuits and misc. No wonder they have so little to show for it.

Under the tenure of Jamie Rappaport morale among staffers is very low. If their poor performance and questionable behavior are any indication this organization is no longer one of defending imperiled wildlife but harming them. In Florida the local rep is Elizabeth Fleming. Here are 4 species in grave danger of going extinct. For each one a big national group with millions of dollars at their disposal could do a lot of good. None of them have gotten help, financially or politically, but that hasn’t stopped D of W from exploiting their plight when asking for donations. Asking members to donate while claiming to help save a species when in fact you have done nothing is a lie and fraud. Defenders of Wildlife should be investigated, at the very least Elizabeth Fleming and Jamie Rappaport should be fired and held accountable.

Sea Turtles – Lie #1

If Defenders of Wildlife are helping sea turtles in SE Florida like their website claims they must be invisible. Everything in their statement is a lie. I started working in the field on multiple permits in two counties in 2008. I traveled around the state attending and speaking at many hearings, rallies and meetings. In I was appointed to the Palm Beach County chapter of the FWC Coastal Wildlife Conservation Initiative. Defenders was never mentioned by anyone, Fleming was never at any meeting or hearing I attended. I spoke to many groups working in the field and none ever heard of her or got any support from them.

Here’s what Defenders of Wildlife claims they do.

Here is what they do NOT do but needs to be done

· Enforce lighting laws

· Reinstate ESA protections for all sea turtle species

· Curb costal development

· Ban dumping of human sewage into the water

· Ban spraying poisonous herbicides into the water

· Support indoor temperature controlled hatcheries to prevent extinction from light pollution and hot sand that boils the eggs/hatchlings

Click here to read what is killing off sea turtles this group is not fixing

Defenders of Wildlife not doing anything about this either

Our sea turtles are in trouble but there is no group in Florida truly fighting to save them, they have all sold out and abandoned their original mission. This is especially true for the large nonprofits like Defenders of Wildlife and Sea Turtle Conservancy. They survived the dinosaur era but humans will be their demise. Nesting numbers may look good but the real facts lie in the unsustainable high death rate from light pollution ranging from 50 -100% hatchlings dying (on most beaches) and hot sand that only produces females. Defenders of Wildlife grade is F for failure.

If you would like to save our sea turtles please spread the message to coastal residents to turn off any lights shinning on the beach during nesting season. Also support the need for indoor hatcheries by contacting the FWC and asking they do real conservation

Robbin Trindell is Administrator for state sea turtle programs for Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission 850.922.4330

Florida Black Bear – Lie #2

In 2015 the FWC was determined to kill off as many bears as they could get away with. Under the ruse of ‘management’ they set forth a massacre that was called off after a couple of days because too many bears were killed. Defenders of Wildlife swooped in to take credit for helping to end the hunt but that is not really true. If they had any real influence the hunt wouldn’t have taken place.

Their claim on their website where they ask for money but the real help comes from local groups most have never heard of.

The real reason the hunt ended was due to Stop The FL Bear Hunt group (now Bear Defenders) and volunteer activists who took pictures of the dead bears as they came in at checkpoints. Photos of the bears included images of the trucks, hunters faces and license plates. Some wonderful person leaked the data that included all the names of people who registered for a kill permit.

Several people, including myself, combed through the list and posted the name/address/phone numbers/work info/faces of those hunters. As images of dead bears circulated along with the hunter’s personal information the media picked it up. Soon the world knew of the massacre and social media went viral including the hunters information. That is what swung the meter to end the hunt and call if off in the future. Direct action and outing the shameful people involved is what gets things done. With all the so called influence Defenders of Wildlife claimed they have with FWC it came down to a few amazing people who were willing to stomach the slaughter and document the evidence and they did it for free.

From the group’s Facebook page ‘Bear Defenders originated from Stop The FL Bear Hunt, which was established in 2015 to stop Florida's bear hunt. After our 2016 victory, in stopping the Florida black bear hunt, we transformed into Bear Defenders to stop bear hunting in other states, promote coexistence with bears, and share our knowledge and strategy.’

One of many posts outing the hunters from 2015

I asked Katrina Shadix of Bear Warriors United if she had ever gotten help or funding from Defenders of Wildlife. Shadix said “Absolutely not! And they are very defensive because us bear advocates put on PR to not support them because they did not come out publicly against the bear hunt.... however they continue to get funding from the conserve wildlife plate... that has a bear on it. They've never reached out to me or offered to help. They've done the opposite and try to roadblock anything I do for Bears. They are one of those orgs want to own an issue and collect money for not doing the work they claim.“

This is a theme of bait and switch I’ve seen more times than I can count. The number of nonprofits making false claims and stealing money meant for causes is ramping up. They get away with lies because no one investigates them. Most people would be afraid to lie so boldly because they don’t’ have the cover of a big national group to cover for them. According to Shadix she was on a conference call a couple of years ago and had this to say about it “It was a bear tag phone call with the FWC, Defenders of wildlife, HSUS and a few other organizations. I stated that I wanted Barre Centric license plate where all of the money goes just for Bears. Elizabeth Fleming from Defenders of wildlife lost her mind and said you can't do that you will take away money from other species that the license plate currently helps. And I responded that they are exploiting the Bears and that people think all of the money for the license plate goes for bears for that's not true... only 11% of conserve license plate funding went to Barre programs and that $26,000 was spent to buy trampoline cushions when a bear falls out of a tree after being tranquilized as well as some modifications for the Trap trailers because the Bears were coming back to the trailer inviting the tires after they were released out of the Trap. I have written extensively about all the lies and fraud about HSUS so none of this comes as a surprise.

“Her and I argued back and forth and I said listen I have the conserve wildlife plate but I want one that raises money just for bears and just for buying bear proof trash cans for people because that is what the saving their lives. So like I said one of those big words that doesn't like actual work that a teeny little org like mine's doing” Shadix said. Her group is the one helping to get the bear proof trash cans to people who live in bear country. Shadix also said Fleming “is raising money off the manatee deaths too.” It’s estimated state population is about 4000 but FWC is notorious for inflating numbers to make themselves look good. Defenders of Wildlife grade is F for failure.

Our bears need real help not a phony group exploiting them.

If you would like to help save bears throughout the US please contact this group

If you would like to help bears in Florida also contact this group Bear Warriors United (407) 702-3576

A fraud is someone who intentionally misrepresents the facts by lying. This is particularly true since the lies are used as a tool to garner donations by Defenders of wildlife. Shame on them.

Florida Panther – Lie #3

When I asked Matt Schwartz founder of South Florida Wildlands Association if he ever received any help or funding from Defenders of Wildlife he said “Big topic Staci-lee – no I’ve never gotten any money from them.” The state FWC is always trying to include them in a hunt.

Claims about protecting panther habitat couldn’t be more false. Whatever recovery plan Defenders of Wildlife is part of it does not help the Florida panther. Not only have we seen a decrease in population and general health but much of their land has been sold and developed. Their habitat is smaller and more fragmented now. If this is how they protect panthers I can’t imagine what damage they would do if actively trying to kill the off. Defenders of Wildlife grade is F for failure.

Our panthers need real help in saving what little land they have left. They won’t survive with phony groups sitting on do nothing commissions. The entire time Defenders of Wildlife has been ‘helping’ things have gotten considerably worse. It’s estimated there are about 200 panthers left in the state which is a very small pretty unsustainable population and extremely endangered . Defenders of Wildlife grade is F for failure.

Our panthers need real help now or they won’t survive into the next century.

If you would like to help save Florida panthers click here

Manatees – Lie #4

When I was writing about the manatee crisis that is killing them off, mostly due to the poison being sprayed and dumped into their habitat by FWC, I spoke with Patrick Rose the Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club. The outlook for manatees is grim since nearly all their food has died off from pollution, their home is polluted and few laws protect them.

Their claims don't add up.

The claims made here sound good but wake zones are rarely enforced. Whatever protections Defenders of Wildlife advocates for they are not about a ban on spraying poisonous herbicides in the water, or dumping human sewage into the water, they did nothing about the massive die off from starvation which caused the loss of nearly 20% of their population but that is only reported deaths. If Defenders of Wildlife is helping manatees they must be in another country. In 2019 it was estimated the population was about 5700, but since 2020 nearly 2000 manatees have died making them extremely endangered. Defenders of Wildlife grade is F for failure.

Click here for an in-depth explanation about the real causes and culprits hurting the manatees

Read more about their struggle here

They need help to survive. They need for humans to supply food since we are the ones who destroyed their food by spraying herbicides and dumping in their watery home.

If you would like to help the manatees click here

Defenders of Wildlife also claims to help sharks & rays but were missing in action when this happened

Do you know where your money goes?

Looking at their tax returns and the long list of species they are not helping to save what exactly are they doing with donor money? We see what they are not saving what genuine success have they had? Can anything they say be trusted? In the past 10 years I have emailed and left messages for the ‘Florida rep’ Elizabeth Fleming who has never had the decency to respond. I guess she knows her lies and lack of integrity have been exposed and can’t come up with a plausible explanation.

Bottom line is do not waste your hard earned money giving to this organization who has proven they do not act in the interest of many species despite their claims. Fact check and verify what any group says and if in doubt stay small and local. Money given in good faith does no good when fraud is involved.

If you would like some answers contact is below:

Elizabeth Fleming Sr Fl Rep, Defenders of Wildlife (727) 823-3888 | & DC headquarters 1-800-385-9712

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Ugh. How do these people sleep at night.

Staci-lee Sherwood
Staci-lee Sherwood

they only care about money and image



I've been a member for years. I had NO idea & am stunned. They could be given an opportunity to respond. I will withhold any further membership contributions to them however, until then and only if these matters are cleared. Wow!

Staci-lee Sherwood
Staci-lee Sherwood

If you get an answer great I have never gotten a response from elozabeth fleming not by phone or email in years. Whatever they do in other states they are horrible in florida and that alone is unforgivable especially since our wildlife has 0 protection from fwc



Great research, and I totally concur. If the abuse, neglect and lawless were to cease the staff of the "Big Boys" would lose their jobs...that is why they cannot be trusted and are, by no means, good stewards of your donated money.

Staci-lee Sherwood
Staci-lee Sherwood

Here's part of the reason the govt won't investigate or oversea nonprofits...because they have their own scam going. The more you know the less it looks like a democracy

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