As 2019 closes out, we’re taking a look at some of the biggest conservation wins of the year. The past 12 months brought protections for nearly 41 million acres in the Peruvian Amazon; the crucial mapping of the world’s longest and last free-flowing rivers; and a historic release of bison into lands they haven’t touched since 1877.

Let’s take a moment to reflect—and then it’s on to 2020 as we continue to fight to protect wildlife and wild places.

Year in review

Bison released into new territory
Bison in Badlands National Park now have an additional 22,553 acres to roam thanks to a passionate group of supporters who want to see America’s national mammal thrive. In 2017, over 2,500 WWF donors and those from partner organizations raised nearly $750,000 to build 45 miles of a new fence that extends bison habitat in the park to 80,193 acres. This October, we released bison into the new area—the first time they’ve touched this land since 1877.

WWF and Apple helped improve management of more than 1 million acres of China’s forests
More than 1 million acres of forest land in China is now managed responsibly or under improved forest management, thanks to a joint initiative by WWF and Apple. The 1 million-acre milestone is part of a five-year project with Apple that began in 2015 with the goal of reducing the environmental footprint of paper production in China by improving the management of working forests.

Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online widened its impact
In just over a year since its start, the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online has become the leading wildlife crime and tech industry partnership, with 34 of the world’s top tech companies working together to stop wildlife trafficking online. The coalition brings together companies from across the world in partnership with wildlife experts at WWF, TRAFFIC, and IFAW for an industry-wide approach to reduce wildlife trafficking online by 80% by 2020.

New technology helped WWF and partners study whales in one of the most remote places on the planet
Drones and digital tags are helping us to better track and study humpback whales. WWF and our partners at Duke University Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab (MaRRS), Friedlaender Lab, and California Ocean Alliance used drone photography and digital tags to better understand how and where whales in Antarctica feed, the health of their population, and how climate change is affecting them. Artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques are used in processing drone images to count local populations. They’re game-changing technology.

WWF completed first audit of cafeteria plate waste in schools across the US
In the spring of 2019, WWF, with support from The Kroger Co. Foundation and the US EPA, looked at cafeteria plate waste in 46 schools in nine US cities across eight states. We worked with partners on the ground to share the experiential Food Waste Warrior conservation curriculum: running audits in cafeterias and guiding students to connect the dots between food, waste, natural resources, and wildlife. While not fully representative of the 100,000 schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program, this research represents one of the largest cafeteria waste audit samples collected to date.

Zambia halted a mega-dam on a crucial free-flowing river
In a major boost for communities and wildlife in the Luangwa river valley, the Zambian government halted plans to construct a mega hydropower dam across the river, safeguarding the diverse benefits it provides to people and nature. Almost 200,000 WWF supporters signed a petition calling for the legal protection of the Luangwa river, which would help safeguard it from the threat posed by dams, deforestation, and unsustainable agriculture—and ensure it can continue to drive the sustainable development of the area.

India reported a new wild tiger estimate of 2,967
The country conducted the world’s largest tiger census in 2018, a process led by India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority, Wildlife Institute of India, and State Forest Departments, and released the findings this year. The last census—conducted in 2015—estimated India’s wild tiger population at 2,226. The new findings will provide critical knowledge to determine whether recovery efforts are succeeding. WWF supported this exercise with staff and camera equipment.

Alliance of clean energy buyers and providers transformed into US Trade Association
REBA, an alliance of large clean energy buyers, energy providers, and service providers that started as an innovative partnership between WWF and three other organizations, has grown to over 200 large energy buyers and 150 providers representing over 90% of the renewable energy deals to date in the US. In March, REBA successfully transitioned to an independent business trade association, with the goal of scaling REBA from hundreds to thousands of buyers of renewable electricity.

Nearly 41 million acres in the Peruvian Amazon were slated for protection through a new initiative
Through National Parks: Peru’s Natural Legacy, $140 million will be earmarked to permanently protect nearly 41 million acres in the Peruvian Amazon. This is a milestone not just for Peru, but for the greater Amazon. The Peru initiative joins two similar ones in Brazil and Colombia. Together these three initiatives will permanently protect approximately 12% of the Amazon.

WWF published first-ever guide for how to design and manage protected areas to safeguard sharks and rays
Well-designed marine protected areas and the protection of critical habitat can provide substantial benefits for ocean life. WWF and the Center for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries & Aquaculture designed the first-ever science-based tool for designing and managing protected areas to conserve sharks and rays. The guide will help in designing new marine protected areas and to improve existing ones.

US moved toward a more sustainable beef industry
Major cattle producers and food and retail companies adopted the newly released U.S. Beef Industry Sustainability Framework, a first-of-its-kind step to reduce the environmental impact of beef production. When WWF co-founded the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and the US counterpart five years later, we envisioned an industry that thrives economically while promoting better social and environmental outcomes, one that provides nutrition without overdrawing the planet’s natural resources. This is a huge, collaborative step toward that vision.

New sustainable rubber platform created
Thirty-nine founding members from the rubber industry, NGOs, and academia came together to create the world’s first Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber. The end goal: transform the global rubber industry through standards for sustainable rubber that protect forests, biodiversity, and human rights, while improving the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.

WWF published first-ever global assessment of remaining free-flowing rivers
For the first time ever, WWF and partners mapped the location and extend of the planet’s last remaining free-flowing rivers. The study found that just one-third of the world’s longest rivers are still free-flowing—meaning they’re largely unaffected by human-made changes to its flow and connectivity. A team of researchers from WWF, McGill University, and other institutions studied about 7.5 million miles of rivers worldwide to determine whether they’re well connected.