William Freund and son Max have long held a passion for photography, film, wildlife and the natural world – and wholeheartedly believe in the power of photography to make real world impacts in wildlife and ecosystem conservation. Based out of Florida, their work historically focused on bringing awareness to the perils of Florida’s panther population. After a trip to Yellowstone, they were inspired to offer their resources, time, expertise, and passion to aid the park’s biologists in studying Yellowstone’s elusive cougar population.
Through their nonprofit organization, the fStop Foundation, William and team have indeed helped Yellowstone’s Cougar Project team gather critical data as they explore the cougar’s key role in the ecosystem. Through the use of remote cameras, and with a film in the works, their support continues to shed light on these extraordinary animals.
We are so thankful to have developed this unique partnership with the fStop Foundation and recently caught up with William to share his story and experience.
Living in Florida, how (and when) did you end up getting connected to Yellowstone and with Yellowstone Forever?
We had the good fortune of having been to South Africa on safari and we were looking to see if it was possible to have a similar experience here in the U.S. and specifically in Yellowstone. After some research, we discovered what was then the Yellowstone Association and, in the summer of 2011, we took our first privately guided trip with one of the incredible Yellowstone Forever field educators. We were hooked! The quality of that experience showed us the professionalism and dedication of not only the staff but the organization as a whole.
After we started the fStop Foundation in late 2015, we knew that we wanted to work with a network of like-minded and world-class conservation partners and the very first organization that we reached out to was YF. Luckily, you all said “YES!” and we’ve had an amazing relationship since then.
How do you support the Yellowstone Cougar Project?
For several years now we have been supporting the Yellowstone cougar project through the donation of trail cameras and related equipment. I believe the total number of cameras is now 134 which are deployed in the grid that is used by the team of biologists to monitor cougars in the Northern Range. Recently we also partnered with YF to produce a film about the cougar project which we hope will be aired nationwide through PBS stations as well as entered in several film festivals.
In brief, what are the goals and mission of the fStop Foundation?
Our mission is to create positive awareness for conservation through the use of photography. We do this through our own projects as well as supporting key conservation partners in the U.S. such as YF, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation. We also have important international partners such as Wild Tomorrow in South Africa through which we support their efforts to rewild parts of southern Africa and help with pangolin and black rhino conservation. All of this is done primarily with remote camera equipment.
What have you learned that has surprised you about cougars in Yellowstone?
Although we are very familiar with cougars (panthers) in Florida and are used to these amazing animals continually surprising us with their resiliency, Yellowstone adds a whole new layer of complexity and adaptability to them. Getting to see them not only surviving but thriving in an environment that has such extreme temperatures while at the same time being faced with multiple other carnivores, to whom they are subordinate, has been truly awesome and inspiring.
Equally amazing and inspiring has been to get to know and learn from Dan Stahler (Supervisory Wildlife Biologist, Yellowstone Wolf, Cougar, Elk Projects) and the rest of the team who are dedicating their lives to make sure we understand cougars and their important role more thoroughly. These are some tough and resilient folks! Just try to keep up with them in the field and you quickly realize they are a breed apart!
How have you found the experience of working with Yellowstone National Park biologists and staff?
It has been a true honor and pleasure to be able to work with Dan and his team! I have learned a tremendous amount from them and have also seen firsthand the dedication and passion that they have for cougars and all of the wildlife in Yellowstone. The work they do is intense and very tough and yet, they do it every day and are continuing to produce powerful scientific data that applies to Yellowstone and to the whole world!
“The fStop Foundation has been a key partner in advancing the Yellowstone Cougar Project’s non-invasive monitoring and research program for cougars and other wildlife. Through their support, we have incorporated remote cameras, which are powerful tools to leverage photography and video footage for valuable scientific data and inspiring storytelling. Together, this partnership is helping to advance Yellowstone National Park’s mission to protect, preserve, and enjoy our natural resources.” – Daniel R. Stahler, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist, Yellowstone Center for Resources
Are there similarities with your work in Florida with panthers and that of cougars in Yellowstone?
There are some similarities and there are big differences as well. Some of the similarities are in the equipment that we use and in dealing with a secretive and elusive carnivore that plays a major role in the ecosystem. Some of the differences are in how the equipment and the data and content it produces are used. We use our content primarily to help create awareness for panthers while also helping the panther biologists. The YCP team also is producing incredibly powerful content that helps us create awareness for Yellowstone cougars, but their cameras are deployed in scientific grids and the content and data produced is used for scientific studies such as population estimates. Of course, there are also some “slight” environmental differences between the Everglades and Yellowstone… 😊
Remote camera footage
Tell us about your upcoming film on Yellowstone cougars. What do you hope are the outcomes of the film?
The film is being produced to help illustrate what the Yellowstone Cougar Project is all about so it’s not only about Yellowstone cougars, but also about the biologists that are dedicating their lives to protecting them and understanding their importance to the ecosystem. We hope the outcome of the film is that people get a better understanding of the importance of these secretive and amazing carnivores and the critical role that they play while also getting to know the biologists doing this important work. There is much that can be learned from this project and that can be applied, not only to Yellowstone, but to many other places across the U.S. and the world.
When/where will the film be airing?
It should be in the spring/summer of 2024. It will be aired on PBS stations nationwide as well as entered into various film festivals. We also hope to do some special screenings for related communities such as Gardiner and Bozeman. Stay tuned for more details!