Recently, the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute held a film screening of The Sagebrush Sea, along with a panel discussion n August 12th. The panel was comprised of Marc Dantzker, the film’s producer, Brian Rutledge, a biologist, and Dr. Matt Holloran, the National Audubon Society’s Conservation and Policy Advisor. The film was first aired on PBS May 20, 2015 and 1.2 million households viewed the nature documentary about the western sagebrush habitat. Due to the large involvement that the Wyoming Stock Growers Association has taken with the Sage Grouse Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, we thought it was important to watch the film ourselves in order to answer questions for our members. With the determination to protect landowners across the state from certain endangered species listings and the understanding that ecosystem balances are important, I was interested to learn about the films opinions on the sagebrush sea.
From the beginning, it was hard to determine what the agenda of the film was going to be due to the political climate that the Sage Grouse brings. The room was filled with members from the Audubon Society and individuals interested in the environment and conservation to save the sagebrush ecosystem, one bird at a time. Despite individual agendas every person was friendly and welcoming. Needless to say the room was filled with a group of individuals who often have different views than ranchers but one thing we do have in common is caring for the public lands. Predicting the films agenda left us confused and yet a little curious too.
The auditorium was packed with over 50 individuals who welcomed producer Marc Dantzker. He introduced the film, the wide array of individuals working on this project, and then show began. The beautiful imagery of the film was very impressive and appealing to watch. As the movie began the narrator described the term “The Big Empty” that many define as the vast expanse of sage brush. Yet that term, “the big empty….that is far from the truth”, and I could not agree more. The footage was mostly filmed in Wyoming’s western “bad lands”, as most call it, but the film was quick to remind viewers that there is a large amount of wildlife that lives in “the big empty”. “Sage is the anchor of the high desert. They can live up to 140 years,” explained the narrator. The movie did focus on the importance of sage brush for the Sage Grouse but also brought to the attention of the viewers the importance of sagebrush habitat for other animal species. The film covers many other bird species, like eagles and owls, as well as the various mammals such as mule deer, pronghorn, ground squirrels and many more animals inhabiting the west. The film also explained the dangers of cheat grass (Bromus tectorum) growth on the rangeland causing fire risks especially due to the lack of moisture in the area. Species that rely on the sagebrush as their habitat also have an increase risk of being attacked by predators explained the film. Interestingly enough the film did not explain that livestock in this area are also in danger to predators. Despite this the theme of the film brought into perspective the ecosystem the sagebrush provides in the west.
Regardless of my concern for an extreme agenda, the film was educational in its nature. Even if there is a slight agenda in the film when explaining that humans need to practice sustainable grazing for livestock, reduce road construction, energy development, fencing and overall human development of the land, there was a lot of information most individuals would not understand unless they were educated about the topic. As an agriculturalist, I hope that all living organisms can adapt to the changing landscapers and in return maintain a healthy ecosystem for wildlife, livestock and humans to co-exist in the sagebrush sea. As I discovered from the film, that ecosystem health is important to more than one animal species. Ecosystems are complex and in order to keep them healthy the efforts of many individuals and groups are needed.
To learn more follow these links:
Written by: Kadi Davis, WSGA Summer Intern