“I always felt a deep affinity for nature and animals but it was seven wolf puppies that drove me, through love, into action.”

– Dr. Susan B. Eirich, Ph.D.

Our Story

When Dr. Susan B. Eirich was invited to help care for seven wolf puppies—bottle feeding them, nursing them when they fell desperately ill, she quickly fell in love. That changed everything. It was the kind of passionate, committed love that a parent feels for a newborn child.

She was helpless before it and felt she had to do right by them. Then, because they had opened her to the wonder of wolves, she had to do right by their kind. As she was invited to care for bears, cougars, lynx, bison, deer, and more, she found herself falling in love each time anew! Her feelings responded of their own volition. Bemused, she would watch them rising from within, surprised at their intensity. From whence did they come? She fell in love with so many different creatures, so different from her own species. What was the common ground that her body recognized?

Woman holding wolf pup
Susan Eirich and a wolf pup
Susan feeding two orphaned moose calves

As her awareness expanded, she realized she had to do right by all Life. Falling in love deeply opens channels through which all kinds of information can flow and she saw each living being—plant, tree, animal—as a source of wonder, if only she was able to connect with each on its own terms. Once she saw it, felt it, and was touched by it, she knew she had to fight for the beloved, protect it, and take action. If she didn’t, it would have betrayed her very soul.

In 2000, Susan Eirich and Jean Simpson founded Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary, a multi-species endeavor. It has been a profoundly difficult and joyous journey since then. Each day, week, and year is a delight, a trouble, and an amazement. An ever-increasing awakening. A microcosm, we believe, of our human journey.

In short, the story of Earthfire is a story of love.

“The soil, made up of finely ground stones and the leaves of plants that once soaked up the sun, is a miracle of intricate life whose secrets we have only begun to understand. It is full of tiny microbes living their lives, supporting more life. The roots of the trees in the forest are connected by a vast, unseen, underground network of fungi. Trees communicate with each other from one end of the forest to the other through these living conduits, sharing information and nutrition.”

Dr. Susan B. Eirich, A Love Song to the Land

The Land

Earthfire Institute rests on the native land of the Shoshone-Bannock people, comprising 160 acres within the broad, ancient basin of the Teton River, now the last major free-flowing river in eastern Idaho. It flows north from its headwaters to eventually join the currents of the Snake River. To the east rise magnificent young mountains, the Teton Mountain Range, reaching far into the sky, catching the clouds which bring rainfall and snow. Sunlight outlines the peaks with the rays of dawn, turning them a warm gold in the late afternoon, then a glowing rose in the evening. Curving from the south to the west, our riparian valley is hugged closely by the Big Hole Mountains, completing a horseshoe-shaped embrace of mountains around our community. Earthfire borders South Leigh Creek, the last best wildlife route in Teton Valley and a part of the expansive Yellowstone to Yukon Migration Corridor.

Caribou-Targhee National Forest and the Jedediah Smith Wilderness Area are managed by the National Forest Service and offer rich habitat for our native wild animals, providing homes and migratory pathways for grizzly and black bears, cougars, wolves, and other predatory mammals. Elk, mule and whitetail deer, marmots, skunks, and ermine are also part of the fauna. Within our property lines, the South Leigh Creek corridor widens and narrows in sections by ongoing development, still capable of providing prime nesting and foraging for great gray owls and other raptors, as well as serving as vital breeding waters for Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Grasses, sagebrush, cottonwoods, aspens, and a variety of conifers line the creek, giving cover for the flow of wildlife within. All of this wildlife is at risk of disappearing—in fact, there has been a notable decline in observable animal activity.

Development along South Leigh Creek has increased exponentially since the beginning of 2021 with new residential structures and platted subdivisions cropping up along an 11 mile pathway that is critical for a thriving wild population. Through the framework of Reconnection Ecology™, we’re working to preserve the corridor by spreading the message about the unique qualities of the land we live on and its importance for all of Life. Raising funds to purchase and preserve available parcels is ongoing.

When we talk about reconnecting with all that’s wild and alive, it should be understood that we’re talking about land and water and all of the life within. The land itself has a voice that needs to be heard. When we listen and act to fulfill the needs of the land, we ensure our own ability to live along with myriad ecosystems that breathe life into all flora and fauna.

Earthfire land is especially vibrant, perhaps because it is still relatively undisturbed, its full vitality able to express itself. But land everywhere is the source of renewed life and hope and magic. Even paved over, the asphalt cracks, plants push through, and life reasserts itself.

Wildlife Ambassadors

Our sanctuary animals are the heartbeat of Earthfire.

Coming to us through a variety of circumstances, our domesticated wildlife cannot survive in the wild. Some were kept as pets, some came from fur or meat farms, and others were surrendered to us. All of them are cared for throughout their lifetimes. Our animals serve as vibrant, evocative emissaries for their species and for species individuality, opening the door for all of us to see ourselves and nature through different eyes–eyes that recognize and embrace our interconnectedness with all of Earth’s ecosystems.

Jean Simpson with Nima and Bluebell the Bison

Our Team

In the years since Earthfire’s inception, we have built up a team of like-minded individuals passionate about reawakening our deep connection to wildlife and nature through Reconnection Ecology™, expanding our sense of community to include all living beings, and moving us to protect thriving habitats for all life.