The US Department of the Interior is working on a plan to lease public lands to conservation groups, much in the same way it has leased millions of acres to business groups for oil and gas extraction, coal mining, and other earth-shattering operations. If all goes according to plan, these new leases will help support habitats in the legendary US national park system. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the new America’s National Parks series from National Geographic.
Exclusive CleanTechnica sneak peek:
CleanTechnica Goes Behind The Scenes Of America’s National Parks
You can get all the details about the new series from National Geographic TV and Disney Plus, but before you start watching, take a minute to hear from Executive Producer Anwar Mamon of the UK company Wildstar Films.
Over a 20-year career, Mamon has perfected the perfect blend of storytelling and technology that makes a picture move, and he took the time out of a probably busy schedule to share some exclusive background with CleanTechnica and our readers.
Following is our interview, with emailed questions from CleanTechnica and Mamon’s answers in audio, in full, (lightly editing to clarify parts of the audio transcript).
Vital Technology & America’s National Parks
CleanTechnica: How do new filmmaking technologies help the audience make an emotional connection to our national parks and their denizens?
Mamon: Wildlife filmmaking has been revolutionized by technology. A clear example of that is drone technology, which has gone from strength to strength and given us new views on landscapes and new views on wildlife, and in a very often economical, easy-to-carry way to access remote locations.
We are very lucky to have a tech department with some of the best people in the world working there. We like to be able to tell stories about the natural world that haven’t been seen before, or find new angles on old stories that have been seen before. To do that, technology is vital.
And so, we often go to our tech department and we posed challenges. We say, “Well, if you want to film this, how would we do it? Can we modify this piece of old equipment to do something new?”
They’re incredible at coming up with the goods, and but it has to be relevant to the story and it has to not be a gimmick for gimmick’s sake.
The Story Of The Lone Fox
CleanTechnica: Can you give an example?
Mamon: One example of that is quiet drone technology, which enabled us to film on Channel Islands National Park and its unique species of island fox.
[Note from the National Park Service: “The island fox only lives on six of the eight Channel Islands off the coast of southern California — they are found nowhere else on Earth. Each island population is recognized as a separate endemic or unique subspecies”].
Mamon: The Channel Islands fox was a major character in the show. We managed to get these incredible drone aerials following a fox as it scoured the island for food. And the cinematography — the way the little fox is filmed as the drone follows it in this big landscape, that really connects you emotionally to how tough it can be for a fox alone.
This is a male fox who is just starting to learn the ropes of independence. How challenging it is, and how far he has to roam, just defines these foxes through survival.
The Story Of The Glowing Coral
Mamon: Technology can also give us glimpses into worlds that we can’t see with our own eyes, like Biscayne National Parks.
[Here’s the National Park Service again: “Within sight of Miami, yet worlds away, Biscayne protects a rare combination of aquamarine waters, emerald islands, and fish-bejeweled coral reefs. Evidence of 10,000 years of human history is here too; from prehistoric tribes to shipwrecks, and pineapple farmers to presidents”].
Mammon: We were very keen to tell the story of coral that glows at night and actually glows as a heat and stress response, due to our changing climate. The only way to do that was with a specialized ultraviolet light and filming rig.
This special wavelength of lights enabled us to capture incredible glowing coral, with the brightest reds, blues, greens yellows. It is an important way to visualize those unique bits of biology, but also an important way to emotionally connect audiences with that biology.
Wolves, Fungi, & The Ecosystems Of America’s National Parks
CleanTechnica: Is there a particular sequence in the series that best represents the messages about national parks that you hope to convey?
Mamon: In America’s national parks, there are a huge variety of sequences. And each national park is an individual. We wanted to treat to treat each national park as a character, to really discover what they are about and enable us to film the incredible biodiversity throughout the national park system.
In terms of a sequence that best represents the messages about national parks that that we would like to convey, I think there are there are many.
One thing that we’re very keen to get across in America’s national parks is how each park is a huge, highly functioning ecosystem. Often we get distracted by the big animals and the big apex predators, but everything is important in national parks and everything needs protecting.
A good example of that is the incredible hyperlapse photoography that’s used in Voyaguers National Park to bring alive the world of the fungi and that you wouldn’t normally see.
[National Park Service: “With 218,055 acres, Voyageurs National Park is an adventure wonderland all year long full of exposed rock ridges, cliffs, wetlands, forests, streams and lakes. This is a place of transition between land and aquatic ecosystems, between southern boreal and northern hardwood forests, and between wild and developed areas”].
Mammon: You can’t really experience them with your own eyes, but using technology, we could show how important the forest floor is to the all the species living there.
What makes Voyageurs unique is its mix of wetlands. We focused on the apex predators, a wolf pack who had young pups, but it was really important to draw attention to the smaller and arguably as important things found within the national parks, not just animals, but also the plant power that really is vital to all life.
Sustainability & The Pandemic Factor
CleanTechnica: Have you used portable or transportable solar panels or other renewables on your shoots?
Mammon: We used a variety of different power sources, wherever possible. It really depends on the location, the filming environment. And obviously the further north you go, in places like Alaska, in the summer you have the benefit of maximum daylight for many hours.
We are also very conscious of our carbon footprint, wherever we go. We take nothing but film and try to leave nothing but footprints.
I think it’s also important to know that America’s National Parks was filmed over a year and a half, some of it during the pandemic or the tail end of the pandemic.
The impact that had on our production was that we ended up using more US-based crews. From a sustainability point of view, it cut down our air travel. We usually fly camera crews from the UK to around the world.
In this case we were using people that were based near the national parks, and who often go to their national parks. I think that impacted the series because and it wasn’t an outsider going to film a place, it was an insider, someone who knew the place, maybe even knew the species or the animals themselves. They filmed it in a way that you knew that it came from someone who loved that place and wanted to protect it.
So, I think it it really elevated the series as well.
Next Steps For Land Conservation In The USA
CleanTechnica: What are some ways that people can help support and conserve our national parks?
Mamon: America’s national parks are for everyone and they rely on visitors to help protect them. We hope that we inspire and encourage curiosity about America’s national parks in our series, and that people either want to go and visit them, or visit their local national park.
These protected places are vitally important to America, and to the world. They are islands and they are often surrounded by human activity.
The important thing to recognize is that we can do our bit to help preserve them, and that’s by looking after our own backyards. The cleaner, the healthier, and better our own little patches are — it might not seem like much, but it will have an impact, and wildlife will flourish everywhere.
That’s because, although the national parks are protected, animals don’t see those boundaries and animals don’t know what a protected area is. Often those same special animals that you might fall in love with across the series, might also be found in your local neighborhoods.
So, the better shape they’re in, the better shape the national parks will be in, and the more varied they will be, and the more biodiversity will be protected for future generations.
A New Lease On Life For Public Lands
In an interesting coincidence of timing, the Interior Department’s proposed new rule on conservation leasing envisions a supersized version of the “do our bit to help” neighborhood model expressed by Mamon.
The new rule actually has three other parts aimed at improving habitat protection on public lands, but the conservation leasing part is the big one.
The Interior Department emphasizes that these leases are platforms for generating revenue, just like other public lands leases. Of particular interest is the potential use of conservation leases in the emerging carbon market, an area that the US Department of Agriculture is pursuing for farmers. We’re thinking that conservation leases could also overlap with agrivoltaic projects that restore prairie lands and other habitats.
If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread. And tell us what you think about America’s Public Lands, too.
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Photo: Channel Islands fox courtesy of National Geographic.
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