I grew up in urban Chicago – where the only wildlife was the occasional squirrel or raccoon. During college and afterward I had opportunities to work with charismatic subjects like marmots, wolves, and bobcats in some of the most beautiful places in North America. Even then if you had told me that someday I would be completing a PhD by trapping and monitoring mountain lions, I would have never believed you.
My research focuses on how mountain lions change deer abundance and behavior, and how those changes influence plants. However, as a carnivore biologist another important part of my job is to act as a liaison between people and mountain lions. Humans have a historically polarized relationship with large carnivores – we both fear and honor them. Only after we have removed them from ecosystems have we seen what a valuable role they play.
I believe that education can help change this polarized dynamic. If we understand mountain lions and do not perceive them as a threat, we can foster a respect for them both as an animal and a key part of an ecosystem. A fundamental understanding of science and biology is critical to understanding how humans and other animals fit into our shared ecosystem. I am very excited to be a part of the SCWIBLES program and to and to help address these ideas and other relevant concepts in a classroom setting.