WITH WHITEBARK PINE in peril across much of its range, a team of visionary storytellers is using the power of film to help save this western icon from possible extinction. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Center for Conservation Media consists of 10 filmmakers and strategists with a simple idea: If we’re going to influence the specific audiences that are integral to protecting nature, “the eye must see before the mind can believe,” quotes Center Director John Bowman.
“We identify the key environmental issues in our world as they relate to habitats or species, find the leaders in those issues like American Forests, and then look to support them with high caliber, blue chip, science-based media to advance their strategies and achieve their outcomes,” Bowman says.
By combining compelling visuals, under-represented voices and cutting-edge data visualizations, the center has helped galvanize international support to protect African gray parrots from illegal wildlife trade, worked with communities and governments to save the critically endangered Philippine eagle, and highlighted the urgent need to protect habitat for America’s endangered sage grouse.
For the past two and a half years, team members have traversed the western U.S. to produce a documentary film and other content that will build awareness and support for restoring whitebark pine, which is imperiled by the deadly blister rust fungus. The star of the show is a plucky bird known as Clark’s nutcracker, which has developed a unique relationship with whitebark pine that is central to the survival of both species and to others such as grizzly bears and red squirrels.
“This beautiful film takes you into the world of whitebark pines, grizzly bears and people, and is a critical part of our work to inspire action to save this ecosystem,” says Eric Sprague, American Forests’ vice president of forest restoration.