Season 4

Take a closer look at the people, places and stories featured in each season, watch full episodes, see what other viewers have to say about this special series, and find out if THIS AMERICAN LAND is airing on your local public television station.

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Herring Lift: Every spring, on the Saugatucket River in Rhode Island, tens of thousands of river herring try to swim upriver from the Atlantic to spawn, facing dams on the river that block their way. Many fish find it too exhausting to use fish ladders on the dams, and they give up their struggle. But happily there are people who volunteer to help the fish on their journey, using buckets in an effort called a “fish lift” to get the herring over the dams.

Biofuel Start-ups: We look at the new frontier in renewable sources of energy – sources grown as agricultural crops. New biofuel enterprises based on switchgrass, corn stover and wood waste are still in the start-up stage, trying to develop their technologies, scale up their production, and secure a market for their ethanol product with some controversial government support.

Fabulous Filtering Fungi: On a small island off Washington’s coast, high school students create
barriers with oil-absorbing mushrooms to filter stormwater runoff that drains into the ocean.

Prickly Pear Cactus for Clean Water: Our Science Nation report takes us to a lab where researchers are testing a Mexican folk recipe: using the “goo” inside prickly pear cactus to purify water contaminated by chemicals or oil spills.

Seamount of Life: Using special recording technology to document the spawning of endangered fish like the Nassau grouper, scientists in the Caribbean study spawning aggregation sites that are critically important for the survival of many ocean species. We follow them to one of these sites off the western coast of Puerto Rico that has been severely impacted by overfishing; conservationists say an effectively enforced marine protected area is urgently needed there.

Arctic Traffic: Climate change is causing a rapid loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, opening the region to more shipping traffic, oil exploration and other industrial activities that were never possible before. This is creating growing risks to whales, walruses, seals and seabirds – especially in the narrow migration corridor in the Bering Strait. The traffic also poses new risks to the region’s local native people who hunt and fish in small boats. Conservationists are pressing for new measures to protect the marine environment, wildlife and welfare of local residents in the changing Arctic.

Altamaha River Pollution: The Altamaha River in southern Georgia is a major waterway, still undammed, flowing in its natural state more than a hundred miles to the Atlantic and its spectacular estuary. But there’s a large pulp mill on the river that has been operating for decades, and critics say it has been discharging pollution into the river which they allege the pulp company refuses to clean up, and which the state of Georgia has been slow to address. We go to the river to see for ourselves.

Diatoms and Climate Change: In another story on the warming Arctic, we meet researchers in Greenland who gather samples of fossilized microscopic algae in lake sediments, discovering vital clues about past and current climate change in the region.

Wilderness Anniversary: Marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act, we explore its origins and success in protecting more than 100 million acres of unspoiled natural wilderness, a distinctly American achievement. There are still many more areas of wild nature that deserve protection, and the Wilderness Act remains an essential law in the cause of conservation.

Arkansas Oil Pipeline: In March, 2013, a rupture in a buried oil pipeline surprised suburban homeowners in Mayflower, Arkansas by flooding their streets with crude oil. Many of them didn’t even know there was a pipeline under their yards. To find out more about this event, we offer a two-part investigative story co-produced with Inside Climate News, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting unit.

Fungi Fuel: We meet a scientist in Montana who searches the globe for botanical specimens, discovering fungi and bacteria in the tissues of some plants that can be converted into a diesel-like fuel.

Owyhee Canyonlands:
Much of Oregon is a desert; and in the dry, remote southeastern corner of the state there’s a wild and captivating canyon landscape carved by the Owyhee River. It’s been described as the largest intact, unprotected stretch of the American West, but it needs more protection from development pressure, including mining. A robust campaign for wilderness designation is making progress.

Sustainable Alaskan Village:
We travel to a remote Alaskan village, Igiugig, where young native Alaskans are adopting new technologies and green ethics to build a healthy, sustainable future while keeping true to their traditions.

Algae Power:
With another report on emerging biofuels, we learn about new advances in converting algae into a wide range of useful products, including oil, growing the algae with by-products from corn ethanol distilleries.

Climbing Fish: Researchers study a type of Goby fish in Hawaii that climbs up steep waterfalls to reach its freshwater spawning areas, an amazing story of adaptation and evolution over time.

Tiny Fish: Big Deal:
Researchers on the Oregon coast study the role that forage fish play in the food chain. Sometimes called “bait fish”, sardines, anchovies, smelt and other small fish are vitally important in sustaining larger species – including sea birds, salmon, and marine mammals like sea lions. Humans also catch forage fish, mainly for animal feed, and there’s growing concern that large-scale commercial harvesting of forage fish comes at the expense of other marine life, potentially with catastrophic results.

Wild Olympics: Spectacular Olympic National Park is the centerpiece of the verdant Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington State, right up against the Canadian border. There’s now a bill in Congress that would add more protection to the forests and watersheds around the park, and we explore why there’s wide support for the proposal among the people living there.

Biofuel from Cornfield Residue: In another report on emerging second-generation biofuels, we travel to Iowa where farmers are discovering there’s growing demand for the residue in their cornfields – stalks, leaves, husks and cobs – left on the ground after the corn is harvested, That residue, called “corn stover”, is biomass that can also be converted into ethanol.

Fire Ants: Everybody wants to eradicate biting, invasive fire ants, but scientists say they can learn a great deal by studying the social structure of these insects. New research shows that the widespread success of fire ants has been assisted when humans disturb natural areas with roads and development.Tiny Fish: Big Deal, Wild Olympics, Biofuel from Cornfield Residue, Fire Ants