MIDPINES, Calif. —
On a warm spring morning in 1976, when Beth Pratt was 7 years old, she noticed a “For sale” sign posted in the woods near her home just north of Boston.
“I asked my mom what it meant,” she recalled. “She said the land was up for sale and would soon be flattened by bulldozers.”
The next day, Pratt went door to door in her neighborhood of old elms and deep porches asking for donations to save one of her favorite outdoor playgrounds. Then she called the phone number on the sign and made an offer: $5.
After several seconds of silence, the person on the other end of the line said, “Wonderful. Just $40,000 more and that property is all yours.”
Today, Pratt is still raising money for causes she believes in. At 52, Pratt heads the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation’s #SaveLACougars campaign, which seeks to raise funds to build an $87-million bridge that will allow isolated clans of cougars to cross a 10-lane stretch of the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura Hills.
To get a full measure of her dedication to the cause, start with the campaign’s poster puma, P-22. A likeness of the lone mountain lion prowling the chaparral-covered slopes in Griffith Park is tattooed on Pratt’s upper left arm.
Groundbreaking is just around the corner. The thought of it brings a proud smile to her face.
“When I took on this assignment I thought, well, how hard can it be?” Pratt said, shaking her head. “I didn’t dream it would grow into a nearly $100-million project that would consume almost 10 years of my life.”
An artist’s rendering of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, set to break ground in late January.
(Living Habitats and National Wildlife Federation)
When it is completed, the 200-foot-long, 165-foot-wide bridge will be the largest and most expensive of its kind in the world — and the only one designed to save a species from extinction.
It is crucial, scientists say, to restoring gene flow among small, isolated populations of cougars trapped south of the freeway that roars with 300,000 vehicles each day in the Santa Monica Mountains and cougars confined to the north in the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains.
Recent scientific studies suggest there’s an almost 1 in 4 chance that Southern California mountain lions, which have the lowest genetic diversity documented for the species aside from the critically endangered Florida panther, could become extinct within 50 years.
The next few months are vital for those cougars and for Pratt, regional executive director in California for the federation. As of early December, the …….