Registered: October 2012
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Please allow me to introduce myself! I am currently a student of environmental science at Muhlenberg College and, more importantly, an emerging advocate for environmental conservation. My Apprentice Ecologist Project stems from my deep-rooted passion for resource conservation and grassroots activism. Some of my earliest memories as a child are of canoeing on Paradox Lake, NY and attending lake preservation meetings. At one memorable meeting, I learned about the fight to prevent aquatic Eurasian milfoil plants from outcompeting native species, and felt a strong responsibility to help protect the delicate environment at risk in the lake I loved. As I grew older, I began working 5am shifts at the launch, inspecting boats and removing nonnative organisms. This experience fueled my fervor for resource management policy, public service, and grassroots environmental efforts. I realized the value of citizen involvement to environmental campaigns and was inspired to effect change on a national level, resulting in my collaboration with the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness and my decision to do an Apprentice Ecologist Project in Montana this summer. Further, my intentions of designing a project capable of educating a wide audience about the importance of wilderness protection and demonstrating the power of youth activism aligned perfectly with the goals of the Apprentice Ecologist project.
My project, a film documentary entitled Grassroots, explores the efforts of the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness (FSPW), a group dedicated to achieving congressional protection for the Scotchman Peaks. The Scotchman Peaks comprise 88,000 acres of extraordinary wilderness straddling northern Idaho and Montana. FSPW’s campaign emphasizes a commitment to a moderate voice, as well as willingness to forge alliances with groups normally in opposition to environmental conservation (i.e. timber and mining industries). My film delivers a powerful message of grassroots coalition building, cooperation across non-traditional lines, and ultimately the story of a community that is overcoming peripheral differences in order to work towards a common goal. In a time of heated rhetoric and divisive extremism across the political spectrum, this is a story that needed to be told.
My exposure to outdoor documentaries led me to conclude that a film would best emphasize the merits of FSPW’s campaign in a fresh and communicable fashion. I independently conceptualized and developed this project, but could not have completed it alone. Understanding that my work would be greatly enhanced by talented partners, I worked with two filmmakers to produce Grassroots on location in Montana. I spoke with a diverse array of community members in order to better understand how the campaign for the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness had gained such wide popular support. Overwhelmingly, residents described how FSPW was unlike any grassroots group they had ever known. FSPW had approached them not as an advocacy organization, but as neighbors willing to respect their interests and work with them to create a wilderness proposal suitable for all. Upon return, I reviewed the footage we had accumulated, and have been working to storyboard a coherent film with a powerful message. My work with FSPW has been a multi-year effort, as this will be my second documentary covering the organization. Though my first film was successful in generating stakeholder interest in FSPW, my Apprentice Ecologist Project conducted this summer focuses on community building, environmental education and social welfare, all key themes of the Nicodemus Wilderness Project.
As the human population continues to escalate, anthropogenic pressures are increasingly threatening wild places. The Scotchman Peaks represents one of the last and largest wilderness areas left in the United States, making it imperative that every effort be made to protect them. Further, there are no areas designated as wilderness in North Idaho, and only one small reserve in Western Montana. The Scotchman Peaks provide a vital and rapidly disappearing habitat for a wide array of endangered and threatened species. Bull trout, grizzly bears, elk and mountain goats all call the mountains home. By leaving the area vulnerable to human development, the natural flora and fauna are exposed togreat risk. Protecting the Scotchman Peaks also benefits local and regional communities; preserving watershed quality and providing a breathtaking wilderness for current and future generations to foster a meaningful relationship with the outdoors. Though the Scotchman’s are far from my home in Connecticut, they represent one of the few wild territories left in the U.S. As a strong proponent of “think global, act locally”, I see the outcome of local conservation campaigns as having implications for the larger environmental movement.
My two documentaries have become invaluable assets in FSPW’s campaign to protect the Scotchman Peaks. As a direct result of this summer’s project, FSPW is integrating a mixed-media documentary to their campaign, exposing the group’s ideas to several thousand additional stakeholders, including policy makers and residents. My first film was premiered in four states, drawing a cumulative audience of over 1,200 people and creating the catalyst for several news articles nationwide, further drawing attention to the Scotchman Peaks. I expect my second documentary to exceed these numbers! FSPW noted a dramatic increase in membership as a result of my project, recently celebrating their 4000th supporter. My work with FSPW has, and will continue to significantly increase the visibility of the group’s campaign. The organization has now been endorsed by Governor Schweitzer of Montana, the Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce and the City of Thompson Falls. FSPW remarked that my project has already inspired a renewed sense of energy to the community and campaign. Due to gridlock in congress, FSPW is waiting patiently to submit their proposal for wilderness protection. My film will help maintain enthusiasm for the campaign in a time when few are optimistic about the ability of congress to be productive.
Though my documentary has had an immense impact on the political campaign to protect the Scotchman Peaks, is also conveys a powerful message of citizen stewardship and social justice. As part of the digital generation, I am increasingly aware that our society is becoming distracted by the “virtual world”, and some argue, disengaged from the “real world”. By addressing the issue of environmental conservation through film, I demonstrate that digital media, combined with the activist spirit of my generation, can interface to create positive change in the world. Far from the narcissistic ("all about me") qualities attributed to today’s youth, and the fears that digital media is creating a generation more interested in themselves than in the world around them, my film offers a powerful corrective to this vision.
My Apprentice Ecologist Project has helped me to understand the current state of wilderness preservation in the United States. Having never produced a documentary before, I vigorously taught myself investigative film methods and conducted a thorough review of legislation applicable to land conservation. In my conversations with community members and policy-makers, I became increasingly aware of the ecological, cultural and even economic value of preserving wilderness.
My project also allowed me to witness grassroots environmental activism at its finest. I learned how an organization like FSPW conducts itself in a responsible and effective manner, partnering with the entire community to preserve a special place for future generations. My experience watching the community transcend politics and coalesce around a single goal has inspired me to one day pursue my own environmental dreams in such a fashion. Through my Apprentice Ecologist Project, I explored the complex relationship between grassroots activism and environmental policymaking, while learning how to utilize my own unconventional form of advocacy in the form of digital media.
Finally, my Apprentice Ecologist Project has highlighted for me the value of youth initiatives and leadership. Once simply an idea being thrown around in my head, I have seen this project come to life and effect positive change in an environmental issue important to me. My hope is that this project will not only encourage my pursuit of change, but will inspire those around me as well. This fall, I have been invited to give several presentations to incoming students at Muhlenberg College where I will discuss the importance of taking on leadership roles in the community and call on others to effect change as well.
As I continue to advocate for wilderness preservation and work towards a career as an environmental policy-maker, I will draw from the lessons of grassroots organization, social entrepreneurship and youth leadership I gained through my Apprentice Ecologist project. This project reaffirmed my commitment to environmental conservation and strengthened my organizational, management, and communication skills.