Timothy Preso is managing attorney of the Biodiversity Defense Program. He has spent more than 20 years working to protect some of our nation’s most iconic wildlands and wildlife in the region encompassing Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. He is a recognized expert in public lands, wildlife, and natural resources law whose work has preserved millions of acres of public lands, protected wildlife including grizzly bears and wolves, and ensured sound management of our nation’s natural environment.
Tim received a B.A. in journalism in 1987 from Oregon State University in Corvallis. He worked for four years as an award-winning reporter for a Bend, Oregon, newspaper, covering environmental issues. Tim then returned to school and graduated summa cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., in 1994. He had the privilege of clerking for Judge Harry T. Edwards of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit before joining the D.C.-area law firm of Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, L.L.P., in 1995. Tim worked there for nearly five years before moving to Bozeman, Montana, in 2000 to take a staff attorney position with the Northern Rockies office of Earthjustice. Tim became the managing attorney of the Northern Rockies office in 2012.
Since joining Earthjustice, Tim has partnered with local, regional, and national environmental organizations; Native American tribes and groups; and private citizens to deliver an extensive record of success that includes:
- Serving as a leader of Earthjustice’s 12-year legal campaign to defend the U.S. Forest Service Roadless Area Conservation Rule against a host of legal challenges and against the George W. Bush administration’s attempt to repeal the rule. This campaign yielded court victories in the Ninth and Tenth Circuits, and protected more than 50 million acres of pristine public forest lands — more than a quarter of the National Forest System.
- Overturning the Trump administration’s 2017 effort to eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear population. This work halted plans for the first recreational grizzly bear hunt in the Yellowstone region in 40 years.
- Developing and leading the legal campaign to end oil and gas development in the Badger-Two Medicine region, an area of top-tier wildlife habitat adjacent to Glacier National Park that is also a critical cultural landscape for the neighboring Blackfeet Nation. This work yielded a 2020 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that eliminated the last remaining lease in the area.
- Spearheading the legal fight that allowed wild bison to re-occupy historic habitat areas adjoining Yellowstone National Park — areas to which they migrate to escape harsh late-winter conditions. This work also led to the restoration of wild bison to two Native American reservations in Montana; Tim successfully defended the restoration actions before the Montana Supreme Court in 2013.
- Achieving multiple victories for wolf conservation and restoration across the United States, including successfully defending the red wolf reintroduction program in eastern North Carolina against a constitutional challenge in 2000 and overturning a flawed new management rule for the reintroduced Mexican wolf population in Arizona and New Mexico in 2018.
Tim became managing attorney of the Northern Rockies regional office in 2012. These recollections were written during his time as a staff attorney in the Bozeman-based office.
I first fell in love with wilderness as a teenager in northeastern Oregon. I grew up in a rural culture focused on ranching and rodeos—neither of which held much interest for me. But amidst the high peaks, alpine lakes and great expanses of open country in the Eagle Cap and Hells Canyon wildernesses, I found something in the local area that I could love too.
That was where the seed of my career as an Earthjustice lawyer was planted, but it took its time in sprouting. After graduating from Oregon State University in 1987, I began a career as a newspaper reporter in Bend, Oregon. By chance more than anything else, I ended up covering environmental issues in central Oregon in the midst of the controversy over logging some of our nation's last old-growth forests. That controversy vividly illustrated the power of litigation as a tool for social progress, as a series of lawsuits brought by lawyers for Earthjustice (then the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund) to protect the northern spotted owl completely transformed management of northwest national forests, protecting thousands of acres from the chainsaw. Wilderness and wild things, I learned, are not merely to be enjoyed on summer backpacking trips—they also must be defended.
So I went to law school. My original plan was to complete three years of legal education at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., then head directly back west to jump into the middle of the fight to protect our public lands and wildlife. But the journey turned out to be a bit more complicated. I spent a year as a law clerk for Judge Harry T. Edwards on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. I took a job as an attorney with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin.
But while my focus strayed for a time, I never lost a passion for wild lands and wildlife. I ended up supplementing my already abundant workload as a private firm lawyer by representing Defenders of Wildlife in their legal fight to defend the reintroduction of red wolves in eastern North Carolina against a challenge by local county governments.
That litigation ultimately yielded a major victory affirming the federal government's authority to protect and restore imperiled wildlife, and I was proud to be a part of it. Inspired by that experience, I decided it was time to look for work that was closer to my heart. Quite fortunately, my own internal searching corresponded with Earthjustice's search for a new staff attorney in Bozeman, Montana. So in March of 2000, my wife, Karen; daughter, Alex; and I finally made our long-discussed journey back to the West.
We have never looked back. Bozeman sits on the northern boundary of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the most intact wildland ecosystem in the lower-48 states. Wildness is never far from your doorstep here. Fall brings black bears down from the mountains to the chokecherry bushes that line the running trail near my home. Spring is heralded by the calls of migrating sandhill cranes overhead as I step out to get the morning paper. You could start walking on a trail beginning not far from my front door and stitch together a route that would take you all the way from Bozeman to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and you would hike through magnificent wilderness the entire way, in the company of elk, moose, bison, grizzly bears and wolves.
As a staff attorney in the Bozeman office [Tim became managing attorney in 2012], it is my privilege to speak for these wild places and wild creatures in the federal court system. Incredibly, some people—altogether too many people—can look at the amazing landscapes of the Northern Rockies and see only places to log, drill for oil, and mine. It has always been so. Ever since its founding as the world's first National Park in 1872, Yellowstone has been threatened by short-sighted schemes for one commercial development or another.
It is only through the efforts of past generations that we can enjoy today the great natural bounty of wildness that remains in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Now it is my work—and our generation's responsibility—to make sure that natural bounty is passed on to the next generation, so that my daughter, Alex, and someday her children can develop their own love for wilderness amidst a great expanse of open country.
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.