Like half our country right now, my guess is your current mood is sad, scared, mournful and angry; as result of electing a climate-change denier, racist, and sexual assault promoter as our president. This is not a political blog, so I will not continue, but instead I wanted to share something positive. Something to give hope, at least on one aspect of our world. I recently read When Mountain Lions are Neighbors: People and Wildlife Working it Out in California by Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, and it’s awesome and I think everyone should read it.
This book is written by California’s director for the National Wildlife Federation. It is well written, easy to read, and is one of the few non-fiction books I’ve read in one sitting. The book was recently published in August 2016, and captures things happening here in our state. Even if you don’t live in CA (and don’t ever call it Cali), this book will give you hope. If you are California native, you will feel a deep pride for our state, something we sure don’t feel for our country right now. There are times when I was so moved while I was reading this, I was brought to tears (albiet, not that hard to do): from the beautiful prose, the resilience of our wildlife, and for the people who have gathered together to make these possible.
When Mountain Lions are Neighbors tells the remarkable stories of wildness, and the resilience of both nature and people.
“This book is to remind us all about the remarkable wildlife that live in this state- sometimes in the most unexpected places- and of the remarkable- and also sometimes unexpected- people who want them to thrive.”
When Mountain Lions are Neighbors gets its name from the story of P-22, the mountain lion that lives in Griffith park and crossed the 405 and the 101, often called the worst freeways in America, migrated from the Santa Monica mountains in search of his own territory. Beth Pratt-Bergstrom also tells the story about harbor porpoises, returning to the SF bay, and the citizen scientists that are monitoring. She tells the story of the program to rewild the bears at Yosemite, instead of shooting them. Silicon valley is as one of the most toxic areas of the country, with almost 2 dozen Superfund sites, yet grey foxes have set up nest at Facebook, and Beth shares about the wildlife returning to the Santa Clara valley. The amazing story of wolves returning to California is covered, as well as smaller snippets of positive stories. Did you know we have a wolverine in the Sierras!?
“California is an enormous state, and although the rest of the country steroptypically envisous it filled with unending freeways and sprawl (and we certainly have more than our fair share), the congestion is balanced with a magnitude of open space. Public lands extend over almost 50 percent of the state and encompasses an area roughly the size of Florida. Within CA’s boarders lie 26 national parks, 11 national monumnets, 19 national forests, 280 state parks and 40 national wildlife refuges.”
Yet despite the wild areas that our state provides, the number one threat to wildlife (both locally and worldwide) is loss of habitat. Even in the best-protected places on the planet, some species are having a tough time. Nature has to be connected to work, and our cooperation is essential to creating and maintaining those connections that will ensure wildlife have a future.
When I worked as a naturalist, one of my key lessons I would share with my students was about connectivity within ecosystems. We would play a game where we would stand in a circle, and each kid had hold on a section of a string. Each student would be an item in an ecosystem; a mountain lion, a deer, a mushroom, etc. The string would weave in and across the circle from student to student, woven like a web. I’d have one student pull and wiggle their section of the string, and when one moved, they all moved. This would help them visualize how things were all connected. We were talking about the interconnected cycles of an ecosystem (mountain lion eats deer, deer eats grass, vulture eats dead lion, etc.), but the actual physical connection of those spaces is just, if not more, important.
In the case of P-22, unless he can manage to cross the freeways again, he’s likely stuck to live his days in the park. Wild spaces need to touch wild spaces so animals can move from place to place. It might be harder to achieve a corridor for a mountain lion, but we can easily provide this connectivity for smaller creatures by our home gardens, with very little effort. We can choose to create a garden that helps restore the ecological balance of your yard.
“…When the number one threat to wildlife worldwide is loss of habitat, we can no longer think of our cities or town or neighborhoods, or even our backyards as exempt from the natural world- or as off-limits to wildlife. We need to expand our view and realize that our shared spaces are as essential to conservation as our traditional protected lands. We need to create a new model of suburban and urban wildlife refugia.”
When Mountain Lions are Neighbors explores some great ideas. We often think of conservation in terms of needing to keep things ‘wild’ or ‘pristine’ or ‘how it used to be’. But this book explores the idea that might not be necessary. It is easy to feel as if there is no hope for wildlife in our modern world of asphalt, smog and traffic. But there is hope.
“A technology campus might not be the traditional view of nature for most people, yet these sites are paving the way for the future; they are taking their landscapes into account, in some cases partially restoring them, or perhaps the right term is ‘reenvisioning’. The SF bay little resembles itself of two hundred years ago, but the porpoises still approve The facebook campus- and all the new nature inspired campuses- might not be the Santa Clara Valley of the past, but the foxes had no problem setting up house. ….Let’s apply this effort to make room for wildlife in urban spaces. Burrowing owls, foxes, beavers and their kin are will to compromise. Are we?”
I first heard about When Mountain Lions are Neighbors from an interview with the author on Cultivating Place (an excellent podcast, by the way, that you should also check out). I consider myself well versed on the environmental happenings of the country, but somehow, these stories missed my radar. Perhaps because I wasn’t looking close enough to home to see what amazing things are happening.
I can’t recommend this book enough. I checked mine out from the local library, but ask for it at your local bookstore, or you can also find it on Amazon here.
Have any other positive books you’d like to recommend? Let me know in the comments!