What's this L.A. cougar thing? Is this the chick with the P-22 tattoo? If I Google Beth why does "pika & poop" come up in the results?
My mother tells me my interest in wildlife began at an early age. I would collect frogs in a bucket, name them all George, watch them in a special frog habitat I constructed in our backyard, then release them to their “families” at night.
“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot,” said legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold. I am one of those people who cannot. I consider myself the luckiest person in the world to have the role as California Director for the National Wildlife Federation, and to work with amazing people to protect the state's remarkable wildlife--from mountain lions in Los Angeles to porpoises in San Francisco Bay, to pika in the Sierra Nevada. And as to that pika feces reference, my most notable contribution to science to date involves documenting a pika eating marmot poop.
Most of my twenty-five year environmental career has been spent in national parks, and in two of the largest—Yosemite and Yellowstone. I’ll always be a national park advocate, and Yosemite remains my favorite place on earth. But I now focus most of my work on helping wildlife in cities and just finished a book about it, When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors. Just five years ago, while listening to a wolf howl or grizzly bear lope by in the wilds of Yellowstone, I would have laughed hysterically if you had told me I’d soon be dedicating my career to the conservation of wildlife in cities like Los Angeles.
How did I become an advocate for urban wildlife and LA cougars (of the cat kind)? In 2012, I read a headline in the Los Angeles Times, “Mountain lion makes itself at home in Griffith Park,” that radically transformed my life’s work. At the time, I thought it simply a curious story that defied plausibility at first glance. How could a mountain lion be living in the middle of the second largest city in the United States? And why would the poor cat even want to?
After a day spent tracking P-22 in Griffith Park with Jeff Sikich, the National Park Service biologist who studies the cat, I had a life changing epiphany. This cat has more of an imagination than I do. Why can’t a mountain lion live in a city? Why is the human built environment seen as off limits to wildlife? If it’s good enough for a mountain lion, who are we to judge?
P-22 shifted my perspective and his remarkable story of crossing two of the busiest freeways in the country to find a new home, as well as his ability (and those of his Santa Monica Mountain cougar kin) to adapt to life in a challenging urban interface in order to survive speaks to the beauty and resiliency of wild things. This inspired me to act--I wanted to help these animals survive. And from that inspiration #SaveLACougars was born--the collaborative campaign to build the largest wildlife crossing in the world over one of the busiest freeways in the country to help save a population of mountain lions. And P-22 also inspired me to get my first tattoo at age 46--and much to my mother's horror a month before my wedding.
Join me in my celebration of the wonder of all California wildlife--whether in a city, a rural town, or somewhere in between--and in my efforts to protect and coexist with our wild neighbors.
Official and Serious Biography That Does Not Mention Pika Poop
Beth Pratt-Bergstrom has worked in environmental leadership roles for over twenty-five years, and in two of the country’s largest national parks: Yosemite and Yellowstone. As the California Director for the National Wildlife Federation, “I have the best job in the world” she says, “while advocating for the state’s remarkable animals, I get to travel around California and spend time with condors, mountain lions, porpoises, pika, and foxes, and work with some amazing people who help wildlife thrive.”
Before joining the Federation in 2011, she worked on sustainability and climate change programs for Xanterra Parks & Resorts in Yellowstone as its Director of Environmental Affairs. Prior to her role in Yellowstone, for nine years Beth served as the Vice President/CFO for the non-profit Yosemite Association (now Yosemite Conservancy) in Yosemite National Park. Beth graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Boston with bachelor's degrees in management and biological anthropology, and a minor in marketing. She also obtained an MBA from Regis University in Denver, and earned the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED AP credential.
Beth serves on the board of the non-profits Outdoor Afro and Save the Frogs!, and she has trained with Vice President Al Gore as a member of his Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps. Her conservation work has been featured by the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, BBC World Service, CBS This Morning, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and NPR, and she has written for CNN.com, Earth Island Journal, Boom: A Journal of California, Yellowstone Discovery, Yosemite Journal, Darling, and Inspiring Generations: 150 Years, 150 Stories in Yosemite. She is the author of the novel The Idea of Forever and the official Junior Ranger Handbook for Yosemite, and her new book, When Mountain Lions are Neighbors: People and Wildlife Working It Out In California, was published by Heyday Books in August of 2016. She has given a TEDx talk about coexisting with wildlife called, “How a Lonely Cougar in Los Angeles Inspired the World,” and is featured in the new documentary, “The Cat that Changed America.”
Although Beth travels extensively throughout California for her work, she makes her home outside of Yosemite, “her north star,” with her husband, five dogs, two cats, and the mountain lions, bears, foxes, frogs, and other wildlife that frequent her NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat backyard.