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!

This American Land In the News

- Sunday, July 07, 2013

Our production team is working behind the scenes to finalize the third season of our conservation news series for PBS, bringing viewers compelling stories on issues that impact our landscapes, waters and wildlife. 

We'll feature a school in Oregon, the Albany Options School, that is working on a bioswale project, which uses a specifically-designed landscape of native plants to limit water pollution. You can read more about this project at the Captain Planet Foundation website, and also in the Albany Democrat Herald

This American Land returned to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument for the third season in a row, this time to film a story on native plant restoration in Kanab, Utah. Kanab High School Natural Resource Management students are growing native plants in a greenhouse and on experimental plots at Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. You can read more about their efforts, featured in the Southern Utah News.

Executive Producer Gary Strieker worked with the USDA National Resource Conservation Service to highlight Texas farmers who are committed to conservation in their agricultural efforts. You can learn more about this story on the USDA-NRCS website

As always, you can keep up with the latest news from This American Land by following us on Twitter, liking us on Facebook, and visiting the "In the News" page on our website. 

Ask Us Anything!

- Friday, June 28, 2013

We’re working on getting the third season of our conservation news series for PBS ready to air, and in the meantime, we’re wondering what our viewers would like to know about the series.

Use the comments to ask us anything about the series! Over the next few weeks we’ll have a series of blogs featuring our production team sharing a behind-the-scenes look at the first two seasons, as well as some advance details about the new season of This American Land. You can also share your questions with us on Twitter, or on Facebook. Answers to your questions will be featured here on our Field Notes blog.

Showcasing Volunteer Opportunities

- Thursday, June 13, 2013

At This American Land, we are committed to showcasing efforts to protect our natural resources--our landscapes, waters and wildlife. One of the ways non-profit organizations around the United States are working to protect these resources is through volunteer efforts.

On the television series, we have featured groups like the Friends of the Oregon Badlands Wilderness (also known as Fobbits), Tennessee Wild, and the Montana Wilderness Association. These groups, and many others, offer opportunities for volunteers to assist in their efforts to protect vulnerable natural resources.

If you represent a nature or wildlife conservation non-profit, and your organization offers volunteer opportunities, we would be happy to help promote those opportunities through our blog and other social media outlets. Please contact us via our website, or leave a comment on this blog with details.

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.

Protecting America's Wild and Beautiful Places

- Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The United States now has five new national monuments!

President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act, designed to protect unique and historic landmarks, to add special protections to some stunning places from coast to coast.

The sites include some areas you have seen us report on in episodes of “This American Land.”  We have showed you the vibrant region of New Mexico that is now “Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.” This 240,000- acre area will continue to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Visitors can find petroglyphs, bird and other wildlife habitat, and archeological sites. The area around Ute mountain in northern New Mexico includes habitat for elk, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and great horned owls. 

The other locations include First State National Monument in Delaware. This encompasses about 1,100 acres near Wilmington. Vice President Joe Biden, former senator from Delaware, has been a longtime supporter. 

The other new monuments are the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland; and San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington state. 

Also designated is the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument near Xenia, Ohio. It celebrates the work of Col. Charles Young, a West Point graduate and the first African American national park superintendent. He was also the highest -ranking African American officer in the U.S. Army until his death in 1922.  

The president took the executive action after Congress failed to act on bills that would protect and preserve these natural resources. According to the Congressional Research Service, “The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the President to create national monuments on federal lands that contain historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, or other objects of historic or scientific interest.”  U.S. presidents have proclaimed about 130 monuments.

Resources for Educators

- Thursday, March 21, 2013

At This American Land, we strive to educate our viewers about the conservation issues that currently face American landscapes, waters and wildlife. The stories we feature can also be excellent resources for educators to use in their classrooms. 

We are forging partnerships with educational associations and organizations to help us fine-tune elements of our content for classroom use. This American Land co-host Caroline Raville, who is also an educator, has created some lesson plans and graphic organizers, currently available on our website, which can be used in your classroom in tandem with some of the stories from season two of This American Land.

You can view all of the educational resources we currently have available on our Educators page. We welcome your feedback on these resources, as well as any questions you may have about using these elements in your classroom. 

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:


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.” 

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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.
Full episodes of THIS AMERICAN LAND can be viewed here.
THIS AMERICAN LAND AND SCIENCE NATION We are proud to partner with the National Science Foundation to bring our viewers exceptional reports from its SCIENCE NATION series in many of our episodes. Fast-paced and informative, each of these stories explores new scientific efforts to understand and conserve our natural resources.
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