A Look Back at Season Two

- Wednesday, July 17, 2013

As our production team prepares for season three of THIS AMERICAN LAND, coming soon to PBS stations nationwide, we spoke with some key members of our crew--Executive Producer Gary Strieker, Series Producer Marsha Walton, Managing Producer Walter Biscardi and Series Co-Hosts Caroline Raville and Bruce Burkhardt--to look back at season two, as well as get a sense of what season three will have to offer. We'll share their perspectives in a series of blogs.


THIS AMERICAN LAND: What was your favorite story was from season two of THIS AMERICAN LAND?

Gary Strieker: My favorite story was the segment on Rio Grande del Norte--a little-known corner of northern New Mexico, not far from where I live. I suppose it's because it profiled a landscape I see and appreciate every day.

Marsha Walton: It's hard to beat the images from our story on manatees. Our co-host Caroline Raville got to swim with them at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, and we showed our audience how beautiful and important these creatures are. Since our story, they're facing some more threats, so we'll be following up on how scientists are working to help these endangered animals. 

Walter Biscardi: I liked the Beaver Builders story in episode 207. Nice, simple story of man learning from the animals and then helping restore balance naturally using the beavers' own skills. 

Caroline Raville: I definitely loved digging up the dinosaur bones. That is something I have wanted to do since second grade. The scenery was beautiful, and I learned so much. There is something really special about discovering new things, and that is exactly what we got to do.

Bruce Burkhardt: I liked the Idaho Wilderness story for many reasons, not the least of which was the beauty of the place. Many of our pieces have to do with striking a balance, and I think this piece epitomizes that. Protecting these amazing natural resources depends upon a delicate balance and consensus among many different types of user groups. This story is a great example of how this can be done. 

Stay tuned for more from this blog series. Next time we'll take a look at some funny stories from behind the scenes. In the meantime, share your favorite story from season two in the comments!

Deadly Algae Bloom Known as “Red Tide” Killing Hundreds of Manatees

- Thursday, April 04, 2013


Series Producer Marsha Walton provides a very sad update on Florida manatees. 

The past few months have been excruciating for the scientists and volunteers who work with Florida’s manatees. Instead of documenting which animals have returned to their winter homes, and which moms have new babies, they are instead retrieving the bodies of hundreds of animals killed by deadly red tide.

“Several things are happening,” said Patrick Rose, a retired state biologist and current director of Save the Manatee Club

“The worst is red tide in southwest Florida, from Bradenton south to Lee County. We are closing in on 200 manatees dead from that event alone,” Rose told “This American Land.”

How does red tide kill these giant, plant-eating mammals?

The red tide organism is a phytoplankton, or algae, known as Karenia brevis. While it is always present in the Gulf of Mexico, on occasion it reproduces wildly, or “blooms,” sometimes covering more than 100 miles. It can discolor water and poison fish and other wildlife. Warm waters can trigger these blooms; scientists believe pollution and agricultural runoff may also feed the algae’s dramatic growth. 

For the manatees, red tide brings excruciating suffering. When the red tide organism dies, it gives off a toxin. The dead algae settles into the sea grasses that the manatees eat, and the toxin causes seizures and a lack of coordination. The animals drown because they can’t keep their heads above water.

The red tide that started in September 2012 is described as one of the worst in years, not only affecting manatees but leaving tons of dead fish along Florida’s west coast beaches. It’s also lasted longer than normal, now more than six months, and has stretched at times to 150 miles long.

Since knowledge of this season’s severe red tide, some manatees have been rescued and are being rehabilitated.

Rose says if rescuers can get to the manatees, even if they are infected, they can recover quickly. They must be stabilized, and then kept out of areas that still have active red tide outbreaks. Saving the animals literally involves keeping their heads above water, truly a challenge when they can weigh a ton or more. 

If you saw our story on the manatees of Crystal River, Florida in our second season, you saw what amazing, if odd-looking animals these are. Our host Caroline Raville and photographer and producer Jim Gilson did some terrific reporting on the population that spends the winter at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. 

Rose says pollution and water quality issues are a big part of what’s led to red tide. High levels of nutrients in Florida’s hot climate can lead to an algal bloom. Excessive nutrients can result from agricultural runoff, discharge from water treatment facilities, stormwater from streets and from residential lawns.

While much progress has been made in educating boaters about propellers harming manatees, outreach is also needed for these long- term killers as well. 

“We need to prevent this from happening in the first place,” said Rose. “We need to deal with pollution, flows from power plants, use permits --from beginning to end,” he said.

Complicating the crisis is another, unknown manatee killer on Florida’s east coast. Dozens more manatees are dead, and biologists have not yet determined the cause. All have drowned after eating large amounts of a macro-algae, and their deaths may be tied to a change in their diet. 

The Florida manatee population is believed to be just over 4,000. They have been on the Endangered Species List since 1967. 

If you should spot a sick or dead manatee, please call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922. That number is staffed 24 hours a day, so don’t hesitate to call if you see a distressed animal.

A Frontier Phenomenon

- Monday, March 04, 2013

Series Producer Marsha Walton shares some information on the Lake County (Oregon) Resources Initiative, featured in episode 213 of This American Land.

When you’ve got a hit on your hands, the rest of the world takes notice!

The state of Oregon has recognized the accomplishments of LCRI, The Lake County Resources Initiative, and wants to take their message of creativity and sustainability to a bigger audience. 

We featured the “Natural Resources Revival’ in this southern Oregon region in episode 213.

 Lake County isn’t just rural—it is classified as “frontier” by the Census Department! And that frontier spirit is what has helped this area transform from being dependent on timber, to taking advantage of its other natural resources, from geothermal to solar to biomass. 


With help from the state, LCRI is building a mobile unit to show other communities more about renewable energy, how to get tax breaks for green energy projects, and how, with a view for the long term, these investments can actually make money. 

There will also be a stationary exhibit at the Lake County Chamber of Commerce in Lakeview, featuring solar exhibits, and a video of our story! Several roadside renewable energy kiosks will be placed around the county on major highways.

The Lake County Hospital is already saving $100,000 a year thanks to its geothermal conversion. And the geothermal retrofit for county schools should be complete in 2014. 

Pacific Power's two megawatt Black Cap solar facility that was just being constructed when we visited, went online in November. It’s the largest commercial scale solar project in Oregon. 

Jim Walls is the energetic executive director of LCRI. His goal is to help small communities make renewable energy an economic development tool.


LCRI has gotten help with its work from “Sustainable Northwest.” Check out this fascinating look at some individual and community actions in response to climate change in rural America.

Elusive Wolverines Closer to New Federal Protection

- Monday, February 04, 2013

Series Producer Marsha Walton shares some information on wolverines, as seen on episode 202 of This American Land.


Our season two, episode two story on wolverines introduced a lot of viewers to a scrappy, mysterious, tough-as-nails mammal that few of us will ever see in the wild.  

Producer-photographer William Campbell spent some cold, snowy days with Wildlife Conservation Society biologist Bob Inman and his team. They have been tracking wolverines in the greater Yellowstone region for more than a decade. 

“Some of the things that we have learned that they do just kind of blow your mind,” said Inman. “The terrain that they live in, the way they can travel across snow. Their home ranges are gigantic-- Nearly 500 square miles for an adult male. That's a vast area for a 30 pound animal,” he said.   

On February 1, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing wolverines as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in the lower 48 states.  Lawsuits by The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and several other conservation groups led to the proposal. 

If made final, the wolverine will join polar bears and a couple of species of coral as animals gaining protection because of the impacts of global climate change. More often, animals and plants are listed because of threats like predators or habitat destruction.

Wolverines need heavy spring snowpack for successful breeding. Female wolverines use birthing dens that they create in deep snow, providing protection from the elements for their newborns. 

Climate modeling shows that the wolverine’s habitat will be greatly reduced in coming years because of warming temperatures. 

As part of the Fish and Wildlife proposal, experimental populations of wolverines could be introduced into the southern Rockies. 

Learn more about the wolverine:

 http://www.wcs.org/saving-wildlife/other-carnivores/wolverine.aspx

William Campbell and executive producer Gary Strieker captured the fragile future of this tenacious animal in our story: 

“The wolverine is a barometer of the health of the high mountains.  What happens in the icebound watershed above the forests and valleys of the arid west is crucial to the wolverine’s survival, and the survival of other, more common species, including our own.”

High Flying, and a High Five to the "Lab of O"

- Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Series producer Marsha Walton takes a look at the many wonderful stories featured on the first two seasons of This American Land on birds, and exciting news from our friends at Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology. 

We cover all types of outdoor activities on our show. Any guesses on the most popular? Hiking? Fishing? Mountain biking? 

For the answer—look up! Birding is the number one sport in America. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says there are more than 50 million birdwatchers out there.

So it’s no surprise some of your favorite stories have featured exotic, endangered, and engaging birds. In season one, Sharon Collins of Georgia Public Broadcasting showed us “Herons and Heroes,” a look at how wading birds have recovered from over-hunting. 

In season two, our colleagues at Oregon Field Guide captured amazing pictures of Arctic white geese by the tens of thousands, and healthy new populations of bald eagles in the northwest. 

We also showed you the almost unbelievable “Miracle Eagle,” a female bald eagle that crashed into a truck driver’s windshield in Idaho and fought back to a healthy recovery.  From a haven for hawks in Idaho, to the birds of Dyke Marsh near Washington, D.C., to a most unusual peregrine falcon home in Iowa, birds and their habitats constantly mesmerize us. 

But birds and other wildlife can be pretty mercurial. On a typical video shoot we aren’t always lucky enough to get pictures of all the birds or other critters we report on. 

That’s where our friends at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology (known by most as “The Lab of O”) come to the rescue! Ask just about any birder in the country, and chances are they have checked out the live nest cams, or taken part in citizen science projects on the Lab of O website to learn more about our feathered friends. 

The Macaulay Library at the Lab of O is the world's largest and oldest scientific archive of biodiversity audio and video. And they’ve just reached a milestone!

All the archived recordings at the lab, dating back to 1929, have been digitized and can now be heard at www.MacaulayLibrary.org

That’s nearly 150,000 digital audio recordings of about 9,000 species. While birds are by far the stars, you can hear, (and in many cases see) recordings of whales, elephants, frogs, and primates.  And on many of these recordings, you’ll hear the scientists on site discussing their work. 

So set aside some time to check out these treasures. And our sincere thanks to the folks at Macaulay for providing sounds and video to help us out on “This American Land.” 

Pinnacles National Park

- Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Series Producer Marsha Walton shares some information about Pinnacles National Park in California.


A few of our favorite stories on “This American Land” fall under the umbrella of “some of the most beautiful places you’ve never heard of…”

We have not visited this California spot yet, but wanted to let all our viewers know about the country’s 59th National Park. Pinnacles National Monument, established in 1908 by President Teddy Roosevelt, has just been elevated to Pinnacles National Park!

 The area is a volcanic field, rising out of the Gabilan Mountains east of central California's Salinas Valley, with beautiful monoliths, spires, cave passages and canyons.

The folks at the National Park Service say many visitors from the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas visit Pinnacles to rock climb, and to view wildlife and wildflowers. It’s a park that is most popular in cooler months. Last year Pinnacles hosted more than 343,000 visitors.

Pinnacles is also well known for its high-flying residents, the California condors. While on the rebound, the condor population is still very fragile. Pinnacles has been a partner of the California Condor Recovery Program since 2003. The park is one of three condor release sites in the country, and currently has 31 free-flying condors. 

You can learn more about these smart, fascinating birds in a story by our Bruce Burkhardt in episode 112 from the first season of “This American Land.” Bruce and producer Jay Canode looked at another threat to these birds: lead ammunition in the dead animals they feed on. In that story you’ll also meet some of the dedicated biologists and bird lovers working to increase the condor population in the west. 

Pinnacles National Park is a day-use park, with occasional full moon hikes and dark sky astronomical observations led by ranger-interpreters. 

If you’re a Pinnacles visitor—send us an e-mail and let us know some of your favorite trails and memories! 

Photo: West-bound view of the Balconies on the Old Pinn trail.

Photo courtesy National Park Service 

Confessions From the Field

- Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Series Producer Marsha Walton shares a look behind the scenes at some western shoots for season two of This American Land.



Photographer David Waters and I had terrific assignments this year covering the Gold Butte region of Nevada (episode 202) and Death Valley in California, (episode 204) looking at both areas as contenders for wilderness protection.


Our day began at 5:00am for our California desert assignment. It was about 30 degrees. We hopped in a “seasoned” 4- wheel drive truck with our guide, Tom Budlong. An hour and a half of a somewhat kidney-jarring ride over gravel and dirt roads got us to our starting point, the beginning of a strenuous hike that would take us to 7,000 feet.

There was some distinct huffing and puffing going on for David and me, schlepping our gear up the mountain. Tom, on the other hand, even though he is 75, was tackling the terrain like an Olympic sprinter.

The sun was starting to come up over the juniper, Joshua and piñon trees in the mountains. It was breathtaking. Literally.

“Let’s stop here for a bit – I’d love to get a time lapse of the sunrise!” shouted David.

Now, time lapse sequences can be great techniques in video stories. But they are time consuming. To get a good 15-20 second clip, it takes 30 or 40 minutes of a locked down shot.

Tom and I said sure, and David set up his camera. As a native Floridian I shivered quite a bit but loved hearing Tom’s great historical vignettes about this land, from charcoal making entrepreneurs to the Mining Act of 1872!

So about 40 minutes later David declared the shot a wrap, and we were on our way.

Now the confession from David:

“I WAS OUT OF BREATH! THE TIME LAPSE REQUEST WAS MERE SUBTERFUGE FOR ME GETTING CATCHING MY BREATH!!!”

You can see all of David’s great camera work in our desert story in episode 204 of “This American Land”.

Sheila, the Demon Car

While we usually rent the smallest, most fuel efficient vehicles possible, on our trip to Nevada and California we had some very rugged terrain to cover and got a small SUV with a higher clearance.

Did I mention that this vehicle was possessed? (We named her Sheila.)

The computer navigation screen had, I am not making this up, about 400 different choices… literally from what color mood lighting we wanted at our feet to temperature and humidity selections for driver and passenger to Windows vs. Mac …

It was complicated enough for the passenger to peruse all these choices, I can’t imagine zipping down the freeway at 70 mph and choosing between “teal” and “chartreuse” floor lighting.

Our first clue that Sheila was haunted came when we tried to change the temperature. I like it about 80; David likes it about 64. We set those temps, and inexplicably, about every ten minutes there would be a huge blast of air, sometimes hot, sometimes cold, and the temperatures would settle at some random number that neither of us had selected.

The true moment of eeriness came when David plugged in his iPhone to charge. All of a sudden the navigation screen lit up and started flashing, “now downloading address book” “Syncing calendar entries” “Calling your mother” … and then, at a delirious decibel level, Sheila started belting out hits from David’s playlist, starting with “Les Miserables.”

It’s great to have in-vehicle entertainment. And it’s always a pleasure to work with David.

Sheila, not so much.

In Praise of Reptile Resilience

- Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Series Producer Marsha Walton shares a closer look at the story on indigo snakes that is featured in episode 212 of This American Land.

Animals play a big part in the stories we cover at “This American Land.” It’s a wide range–from lovable and endangered species like the Florida manatee, to elusive and mysterious mammals like the wolverine, to invasive species like the lionfish.

So how about those critters that almost never get the adjective “beloved” bestowed upon them?

Snakes often get a bad rap. But just think about what they have to deal with.

“It’s pretty amazing how versatile this long, string-like body is,” said mathematician and mechanical engineer David Hu at Georgia Tech. Hu studies locomotion in snakes and other animals.

“Having no arms and no legs seems like it would be the worst body plan in the world. But it turns out snakes use it to their great advantage, and they can go into places that things with arms and legs can’t,” said Hu.

One of our stories this season is on efforts to save a yes, gorgeous snake, the Eastern indigo.

“It’s a strikingly beautiful animal,” said Chris Jenkins, CEO of the Orianne Society. “It’s a large animal, the largest snake in North America. Their scales are covered with an iridescent sheen that, in the right light, is just brilliant,” he said.

But it is also in danger. In 1978 the Eastern indigo was listed as “threatened” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.

The Orianne Society is dedicated to the conservation of imperiled snakes around the world.

And their efforts are paying off, with the help of many other state and federal agencies. The U.S. Forest Service has just recognized the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for helping reintroduce the federally threatened indigo snake back into the state. When scientists discovered that no indigo snakes could be found in the forests of Alabama, they worked to introduce 78 wild indigo snakes into the Conecuh National Forest.

Assisting in that effort: the Conecuh National Forest, Auburn University, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Zoo Atlanta, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

“The loss of this snake from Alabama and other areas is the loss of a significant part of the biodiversity of the forest. To return the Eastern indigo snake to the south Alabama landscape is to restore a piece of the natural history of the state,” said Nongame Wildlife Coordinator Mark Sasser of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

So when you think about snakes, give them a little respect. The Eastern indigo has earned it: Its Latin name, Drymarchon, it loosely translates into “Emperor of the Forest!”

Our story on indigo snakes airs in episode 212.

Ranger Tammy Says…

- Monday, November 12, 2012

Producer Marsha Walton shares a firsthand look at one of the stories she worked on for season two of This American Land, at Fort Ord in California.

This American Land co-host Bruce Burkhardt with Ranger Tammy

 

People remember “Ranger Tammy. “

At Fort Ord National Monument in California, Tammy Jakl, a park ranger with the Bureau of Land Management, is a dynamo…constantly teaching visitors about protecting and enjoying this transformed military base.

“I am a jack of all trades,” she told us when host Bruce Burkhardt, photographer Roger Herr and I did our story on this beautiful California coastal area earlier this year.

“Pretty much my day can go: Visiting a school and doing an environmental education with ninety 8 year olds. And coming out here and seeing 98 year olds hiking, and maybe they need some water, or a ride back to their car,” she said.

During the time we spent with her, she answered logistics questions for extreme athletes at Fort Ord’s first ROGAINE event. (And no, it has nothing to do with hair! The event known as “Get Lost!! in Fort Ord” is a hiking and biking event. ROGAINE stands for “Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance.”) Among many, many other duties, she looks for lost dogs, empties trash, repairs fences, writes grants so she can do more school programs… you name it!

“Being a ranger, part of my job is trying to get people excited about the outdoors,” she said. “To me, if they don’t have a reason to care, they won’t. And so through recreation and the habitat preservation, we get a large audience that way,” she said.

And it pays off, especially with the kids who learn about wildlife, plants, and preservation.

“When you teach a 6 year old something, they go home and say, ‘Daddy, Ranger Tammy says we need to stay on the trail, otherwise we could step on some endangered plants and they may not come back and then they’ll never be there again,’ Making sure kids understand why we are doing what we are doing, sometimes it is a little easier. If you grow up knowing that’s the right way to do it, it’s a habit,” she said.

If you’re visiting the California coast, perhaps checking out the Monterey Bay Aquarium, plan to spend a day at the Fort Ord National Monument. It’s just an amazing transformation that local residents and the military made after this iconic training facility was shuttered in the mid 1990s. For hikers and mountain bikers, it’s just a treasure!

Meet Ranger Tammy in episode 202 of This American Land! 


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THIS AMERICAN LAND is the leading conservation news magazine program on public television stations nationwide. Opening windows to our country’s amazing natural heritage, we report compelling stories on America’s landscapes, waters and wildlife, taking our viewers to the front lines of conservation, science and outdoor adventure with stories that inform and entertain.
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