Kristin H. Berry and I first crossed paths in 1969 when I was an undergraduate zoology major and she was a teaching assistant in Zoology 107A–107B, "Natural History of the Vertebrates" at the University of California, Berkeley, taught by among other people, Robert Stebbins. The course involved weekly field trips (Saturday mornings from 8 am to 12 noon), lectures and laboratory work. I can still vividly recall Kristin showing me her pet Colorado River toad (Bufo alvarius) and how it would lunge after a pencil point on the wall, thinking that a fly had come into view. Our paths have crossed again many times since then at Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee meetings, the Desert Tortoise Council and at CTTC meetings.

Desert tortoise in habitat

Wild adult desert tortoise at the DTNA.
Photograph by Michael J. Connor

Kristin's current job title is Supervisory Wildlife Biologist and Senior Scientist at the Bureau of Land Management's California Desert District Office in Riverside, California. She has a B.A. in biology from Stanford, an M.A. in biology from UCLA and a Ph.D. in zoology from UC Berkeley. She is a founder of the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee, the Desert Tortoise Council, and a long-time member of CTTC.

This interview took place in southern California on June 7, 1992 a few days into the Earth Summit meeting at Rio Di Janeiro, Brazil.

Marc Graff (MG): How did your interest in tortoises and in conservation develop?

Kristin Berry (KB): I grew up on the desert edge. My back yard in China Lake, where I lived from age 4, was right on the desert, next to creosote bushes. My father had desert tortoises in a pen in the yard, and I used to catch lizards as a child. After receiving my bachelor's degree, I worked for the Department of Defense at China Lake but did not find that satisfying and went back to school, first at UCLA, then at Berkeley. My dissertation was "The Ecology and Social Behavior of the Chuckwalla (Sauromalus obesus)".

When I left graduate school, I had my own company doing survey work and other studies. Jack Edell of the California Division of Highways (forerunner of CalTrans) was looking for someone to do a study for a desert tortoise relocation project along route 58 between Kramer Junction and Mojave during the widening of the road from two to four lanes. Glenn Stewart told Jack that I could do this since I had studied the chuckwalla and knew about long-lived herbivorous reptiles. Tortoises were taken from the route 58 area and translocated to China Lake. It's interesting to note that one of the Boy Scouts who was helping on this project to get community service credit towards being an Eagle Scout was Peter Woodman, who today has his own company doing similar work! I became interested in land distribution issues and realized that for the work I wanted to do I would need to be in an agency which dealt with these issues. I began working with the BLM at that time.

MG: Could you say something about the formation of the Desert Tortoise Natural Area and the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee?

KB: During 1971-1972 with the backing of John Brode of the California Fish and Game Department, I proposed to the BLM the creation of what has become the Desert Tortoise Natural Area (DTNA). By the fall of 1973 the DTNA existed on the map (although with smaller boundaries), and the area was closed to off-road vehicles. In 1974, I, along with Betty and Warren Forgey, Bev Steveson, Laura Stockton and Charlotte and Albert Gould, formed the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee (DTPC). I had known the Goulds since I was five, living in China Lake. Albert Gould got us incorporated and served as our first treasurer. Betty Forgey was president of a garden club district and had invited me to speak and was instrumental in launching the effort.

MG: How do you think the DTPC/DTNA has fared?

KB: We've done amazingly well! A small, grass-roots organization has dealt with 400 separate land-owners, fenced the area and created a 39 square mile protected area. I am particularly pleased that another generation has come along to continue the effort – people like Roger Dale, Jun Lee, Ryan Campbell and Jayne Scales. There is certainly the possibility that surrounding areas will also be protected in the future.

MG: What about the formation of the Desert Tortoise Council?

KB: The Desert Tortoise Council (DTC) grew out of the efforts of Jim St. Amant (California Fish and Game) and Glenn Stewart (California Polytechnical State University, Pomona). I joined them in 1971. Jim set up the four-states Desert Tortoise Recovery Team which developed into the Desert Tortoise Council. It was modeled after the Colorado River Council and the Desert Fishes Council, and received input from Phil Pister (California Fish and Game).