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2021 Bullitt Prize Winner Chris Cousins

on Mon, Sep 27, 2021 at 9:44 AM

2021 Bullitt Prize Recognizes Amphibian Ecologist Authoring Kids Books
Award winner engages Latino children to cultivate the next generation of environmental leaders

SEATTLE – The Bullitt Foundation announced today that it is awarding the 15th annual Bullitt Environmental Prize to Christopher Cousins, a PhD student in wildlife ecology who is creating a series of bi-lingual children’s books to bring STEM education to minority and underserved communities. The Bullitt Prize recognizes young people who have overcome adversity and demonstrated the ability to become powerful environmental leaders.

Cousins – who is a dual citizen of Mexico and the United States – is studying headwater streams at Oregon State University, applying a novel methodology to detect the presence of amphibians, including threatened species, through water testing for environmental DNA (eDNA). His goal is to predict population health as the climate changes, to identify refugia for keystone species as riparian habitat shrinks, and to use results from eDNA to test climate model predictions.

“Chris has the charisma, smarts and perseverance needed to change hearts and minds,” said Denis Hayes, CEO of the Bullitt Foundation. “The judges were especially impressed by the way he combines top-notch, peer-reviewed scholarly research with writing illustrated bilingual children’s books to introduce Latino children to conservation biology.”

Cousins is creating a children’s book series about amphibians, stewardship and belonging. The first book, “Nuestra Casa,” is a story of two Latino children who are friends with frogs and salamanders in a nearby pond. The goal of the books is to highlight the value of natural areas while also supporting a shared understanding that all people belong in these places.

While Latinos in the United States support environmental issues and action on climate change at a higher rate than the population overall, it is less common that they are engaged with environmental groups or self-identify as environmentalists. For example, more than seven in ten Latinos have never been contacted by an organization working to reduce global warming, according to a 2017 survey. Cousins’ work is designed to cultivate the next generation of Latino environmental leaders.

“If we are going to tackle the big environmental problems, we need to start early and work with children,” Cousins said. “If kids see stories about people like them, they understand they belong and start to see nature as something to care about.

Cousins’ research includes a partnership with the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where some of his Mexican family members are alumni. A professor there, Dra. Gabriela Parra Olea, also uses children’s books to engage rural communities and build excitement about nature and conservation. Cousins is hoping to use his books to apply a similar approach in Oregon and Washington.

The goal of the Bullitt Environmental Prize is to help broaden and diversify the leadership of the environmental movement. It comes with $100,000 awarded over two years. Past winners of the Bullitt Environmental Prize include advocates for affordable housing and immigrant farmworkers, a soil carbon researcher, a Bahamian marine biologist, a wildlife conservation leader trying to reduce conflict between wolves and ranchers, a veterinarian with a doctorate in public health who studies zoonotic diseases, a researcher focused on climate change adaptation, and an advocate for organic food security.

While the Bullitt Foundation has announced plans to sunset its grantmaking at the end of 2024, it is reserving funds to continue awarding the Bullitt Prize in perpetuity.