Sharon Negri will never forget the first time she saw a mountain lion. As Sharon and her family floated peacefully down the Flathead River in Montana, their rubber raft approached a solitary mountain lion lounging on the riverbed. The mountain lion sat there for about half a minute, looking at the boat full of visitors. Then it bounced off into a brush. It was an exhilarating moment, she explains to me, to see the magnificent animal sitting in the bright green grass. It gave me the energy to keep going.
The experience on Flathead River reaffirmed her conviction that carnivores can co-exist peacefully with humans. As the founder and director of WildFutures, Sharon works to bring biologists and conservationists together in a groundbreaking coalition that attempts to overcome the notion that carnivores are mere threats to human safety. In the PBS-aired film On Natures Terms (2001), WildFutures worked with award-winning producer John de Graaf to illustrate the various ways in which ordinary Americans have learned to co-exist with carnivores. Beyond showing breathtaking footage of predators in their natural habitat, the film reassures us that many people are willing to risk living with wolves, cougars, and bears. More people die per year at the mercy of domesticated animals than from wild predator attacks.
Sharon has always had a fascination with wild places and wild things. Theres something innate, something wild in us that wants to have our feet on the earth, Sharon tells me. Her voice is soft, her tone passionate. Here is a woman who personifies the oxymoronic wildness and peacefulness inherent in the carnivores to which she dedicates her life.
Action creates change. The daughter of a legislator, Sharon has understood this well since childhood. When she traveled around the world after college, she was appalled by the myriad ways in which animals are being unnecessarily exploited, like the slaughter of elephants in Africa. Returning home with a staunch determination to help wildlife, she realized that the same types of problems happened in her own backyard.
WildFutures was formally adopted as a project of Earth Island Institute in 2000, but the relationship goes back a decade. EIIs ability to open doors for beginning projects was instrumental to WildFutures growth.
WildFutures is at once matchmaker, facilitator, and consultant to biologists and conservationists whose efforts often overlap but are rarely combined. The project is founded on the belief that the best and most cost-efficient solutions can be found through expanding networks and sharing research and information among professionals with common interests. For WildFutures current project, the collaboration centers on improving the way mountain lions in North America are studied and managed. Using people skills, networks and 25 years of experience, Sharon successfully brought together scientists and wildlife managers with over 200 years of collective experience in cougar research at a conference in Idaho. The innovative resulting Cougar Management Guidelines, to be made public in 2005, clarify the link between applied science and species conservation. Population monitoring, habitat mapping, hunting strategies and attacks on humans and pets are carefully considered and addressed.
The only time Sharon ever questioned her work was after September 11, 2001. The tragedies that struck New York City and Washington, DC made her wonder whether her devotion to carnivores and nature might be insignificant. Three weeks later, still wondering, Sharon headed to Yellowstone National Park. It was here that she recalled, perhaps then more than ever, how nature provides solace when the world needs it most.
We live in a cement world, she says. Being in nature helps me remember why were here.
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