Spring showers and a Chumash prayer ushered in the who’s who of environmental champions honored at the second annual Santa Monica Mountains (SAMO) Fund spring celebration May 7 at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas.
Activities were held in the Anthony C. Beilenson Interagency Visitor Center at the ranch.
Organizers of this year’s event showcased the dedication of 11 female leaders whose contributions helped save open space, preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered plant and animal species, and address myriad other challenges that threaten life in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Sara Nelson Horner, president of the SAMO Fund, talked about Mother Earth.
“This natural world is our mother,” she said. “It’s a safe, good place to be.”
State Sen. Henry Stern opened the festivities, saying that he was inspired to run for office because of the work that local environmentalists tackled over the years. Stern, who worked as a senior policy adviser for state Sen. Fran Pavley, ran for the Senate seat when his boss retired.
“I ran for office because of these mountains,” Stern said. “They’re big enough and important enough to fight for.”
Stern said the current federal administration is proposing cuts to environmental protections and, despite the political climate, environmentalism is about values.
Assemblymember Richard Bloom congratulated the group of women on their environmental work.
The women honored were called up one by one.
Pavley, the first mayor of Agoura Hills, a two-term assemblymember and two-term state senator, has fought for the environment on many fronts over the decades. She authored 160 bills that were signed into law that tackled clean energy, global warming, oil and gas fracking, and greenhouse gas emissions, to name a few.
“I’m really proud of the Santa Monica Mountains Fund for their good work,” Pavley said.
According to SAMO member Peter Nelson, honoree Beth Pratt Bergstrom, California director of the National Wildlife Federation, has made the mountain lion known as P-22 “a poster boy in the campaign to protect pumas.”
The male cougar known as P-22 became the focus of Pratt Bergstrom’s campaign to build a wildlife crossing in Agoura Hills because he survived a journey from the Santa Monica Mountains across two Los Angeles freeways to his new home in Griffith Park. The cougar is now trapped within the confines of the park with plenty to eat but scant chance of finding a mate in such a small area.
The wildlife crossing, Pratt Bergstrom said, will allow pumas to safely cross into neighboring mountain ranges to expand their territories and genetically diversify.
The other honorees were:
Linda Parks, Ventura County supervisor;
Mary Sue Maurer, mayor of the City of Calabasas;
Rorie Skei, chief deputy director for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy;
Mary Weisbrock, founder of Save Open Space;
Suzanne Goode, natural resource program manager for the California Department of Parks and Recreation;
Julie Newsome, wildlife campaigner and event organizer;
Josephine Powe, open space campaigner and advocate;
Mary Ellen Strote, writer and Santa Monica Mountains advocate; and
Nancy Helsley, community environmental education coordinator.
Margot Feuer, Jill Swift and Susan Nelson, founding mothers of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, were remembered for their work to protect the local mountains for posterity.
Over 100 guests took part in the festivities that included music, food and a silent auction.
Leah Culberg, a member of SAMO and a longtime mountain resident, said the SAMO Fund supports the education, science and resource protection efforts of the National Park Service.
The group, she said, has facilitated over 15,000 visits by fourth-graders to the mountains as part of their Every Kid in a Park program and administered a youth program to support college-bound students from underserved communities.
In addition to developing and maintaining mountain trails, the nonprofit group has supported scientific research in the park, including studies on mountain lions and red-legged frogs.