Mike Phillips — How to Save a Species (#383)

“Humans and cockroaches and coyotes are going to inherit the earth.”
— Mike Phillips

[Visit tim.blog/wolf for the most important links from this interview and my personal next steps.]

Mike Phillips has served as the Executive Director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund and advisor to the Turner Biodiversity Divisions since he co-founded both with Ted Turner in June 1997. Before that, Mike worked for the U.S. Department of Interior leading historic efforts to restore red wolves to the southeastern US and gray wolves to the Yellowstone National Park. He also conducted important research on the impacts of oil and gas development on grizzly bears in the Arctic, predation costs for gray wolves in Alaska, and dingo ecology in Australia. These days, Mike is an advisor to the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project.

In 2006 Mike was elected to the Montana House of Representatives. He served there until elected to the Montana Senate in 2012. His service in the senate will extend through 2020.

Mike received his MSc in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Alaska in 1986 and his BSc, Ecology from the University of Illinois in 1980.

Please enjoy!

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Want to hear another episode with someone who’s working hard to save the planet? — Listen to my conversation with Conservation International CEO M. Sanjayan, in which we discuss monkey birthday cakes, storytelling, respect, common misconceptions about conservation, and much more. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#285: Overcoming Doubt, Battling the Busy Trap, and Enhancing Life — M. Sanjayan


QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.



  • Visit tim.blog/wolf for the most important links and my personal next steps
  • Get Involved with the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project and Action Fund

Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund | Rocky Mountain Wolf Project | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram


  • Who is Mike Phillips? [03:56]
  • Why might a grizzly bear’s muzzle be bloodstained while its teeth are green? [07:27]
  • What inspired Mike to become an ecologist who focuses on predators? [12:26]
  • Is it true that menstruating women shouldn’t hike in grizzly bear country? Here’s how Mike took aim at answering this age-old question. [15:33]
  • To his mind, what is the craziest study Mike has gotten funded? Two words: radioactive wolves. [18:47]
  • What are the most effective deterrents, defensive tools, and practices for preventing and reacting to grizzly attacks? [20:39]
  • What role do predators play in an ecosystem, and what happens when they’re extirpated from that ecosystem? [26:30]
  • What is a trophic cascade? [30:11]
  • Why was a 300-year war launched in the US on the once ubiquitous gray wolf, and how was this mass-scale extermination accomplished? [34:23]
  • How did Mike get the opportunity to lead red wolf recovery in North Carolina and gray wolf recovery in Yellowstone? [38:42]
  • What changes has Mike personally observed in Yellowstone over the past 24 years since gray wolves were reintroduced? [42:08]
  • What did two wolves teach Mike about the value of private land in advancing the recovery of endangered species, and how did this lead to Mike leaving Yellowstone in ’97 to co-found the Turner Endangered Species Fund and Turner Biodiversity Divisions with Ted Turner? [45:00]
  • The extinction crisis and why it matters, the likely fate of humanity should we ignore it, and what conservationists most often get wrong. [47:40]
  • Does Mike ever get overwhelmed by the seemingly unstoppable harm that humans are wreaking on the planet? If so, how does he overcome the feeling and continue working to counter it? [53:06]
  • Why does Mike consider western Colorado to be the last missing piece in the effort to restore gray wolves, and why should someone who doesn’t live in Colorado support this effort? [58:12]
  • If we’re looking at the opportunity to reestablish a major carnivore at an intercontinental scale, how many wolves need to be reintroduced over what period of time for this to stand a good chance of being realized? [1:01:51]
  • If such an initiative is successful, what would Mike hope some of its ripple effects to be? [1:05:49]
  • Why is wolf restoration such a controversial topic? [1:08:06]
  • How hard is it to make a living in the woods with your teeth if you’re a wolf, how often do they fail at hunting, and what two assets do they have going for them? [1:09:33]
  • What are the justified and unjustified concerns people raise with regards to wolf restoration? [1:14:33]
  • Tools that can be helpful toward wolf reintroduction efforts in minimizing wolf versus human conflict. [1:20:31]
  • How can we incentivize ranchers to non-lethally deter predation when the path of least resistance is to just shoot the offending wolf? [1:23:51]
  • What changes to the Endangered Species Act are currently being proposed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and what does Mike think will come of them? [1:29:54]
  • How much of its historical range does the gray wolf currently inhabit? [1:31:50]
  • Why are different animals proposed for delisting at different points in their rehabitation of their historical range? [1:32:33]
  • What is the state of gray wolf reintroduction in western Colorado right now, what is the time-sensitive nature of the effort, and how can you help? [1:35:15]
  • If my audience can provide $100,000 to the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund within a week of this podcast coming out, I will match that, and provide another $100,000. [1:42:11]
  • Where can someone who wants to contribute more than a modest sum to this effort make their donation? [1:46:42]
  • In what other ways can someone who’s strapped for cash help? [1:49:27]
  • A book recommendation. [1:51:27]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:53:02]