A diverse group was on hand for the local presentation of “Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and A Land Ethic for Our Time.”
Emmy award-winning director Steve Dunsky’s new film is about a 20th century conservationist who shared values on both sides of current party lines.
Host and organizer Tripp Mikich of the El Dorado Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (EDC-CNPS) introduced Dunsky to a sold-out crowd at the Cozmic Café in Placerville with spectators eager to celebrate Leopold, writer of the bestseller “A Sand County Almanac” (1949).
Leopold’s legacy as a forester, wildlife manager and environmentalist still guides modern preservation logic for liberals, conservatives and Independents, including projects in the idyllic El Dorado County backyard.
Leopold coined “the land ethic” and inspired millions to consider their rural and urban surroundings with respect to “integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.”
Green Fire describes Leopold’s early career starting in the Arizona Territory with the newly formed United States Forest Service (USFS) in the early 1900s.
The film shows a thoughtful youth who would quickly question the efficacy of early forestry practices. A formative scene in Green Fire dramatically pans across archival images of unending fallen trees and dead mountain lions and game birds by the thousands.
In Thinking Like a Mountain, Leopold recalls an experience as a young hunter after killing a wolf, “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes … I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”
Leopold went on to write “Game and Fish Handbook” for the USFS and became the first professor of game management at the University of Wisconsin, Madison responding to the environmental degradation of the Industrial Revolution, the Dust Bowl and World War II.
Dunsky described his impetus to keep Leopold’s message alive .
“There tends to be a fragmentation along ideological lines even within conservation and the great thing about Leopold is that he brings all these people together — because he was a hunter and he understood that ethic. But, as Curt (Meine) said, he was also a defender of wildlife and understood the importance of protecting endangered species,” Dunsky said.
Audience member and local science teacher Daniel O’Connor confirmed the importance of this perspective and questioned, “We’re all going to have vital conflicts, how do we resolve them and still respect each other?”
Steve Dunsky and other filmmakers including his wife and editor, Ann Dunsky, made the film while working for the USFS and through the sponsorship of The Aldo Leopold Foundation. The foundation contacted the filmmakers after their production of “The Greatest Good” (2005).
Pre-production for Green Fire began in 2008 and the film was made through a three-year “process of discovery” as the filmmakers collected approximately 70 interviews with notable figures who uphold Leopold’s land ethic, including several of Leopold’s children and grandchildren who continued in the natural sciences.
Dunsky reported being impressed with what a “great listener and a great observer” Leopold had been. The filmmaker found that Leopold had acted out of “love and respect” in human-human and human-land relationships — not the frustration or anger which Dunsky sometimes recognizes in modern activism.
“That’s a key thing about our film — the idea of hope — I think a lot of environmental films paint a pretty grim picture. If you look at Leopold’s life, he was doing what he was doing in the 1930s, in the Dust Bowl. He was looking toward the future by planting pines,” Dunsky said.
Similarly, when referring to climate change, Dunsky’s most serious environmental concern, he referred to a Leopold quote, “That the situation is hopeless should not prevent us from doing our best.”
Leopold’s non-partisan ethic teamed together the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, The El Dorado Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (EDC-CNPS), Season for Nonviolence and Placerville Natural Foods Co-op to sponsor the event.
Coordinator Tripp Mikich described another setting where a land ethic brought separate organizations together.
Mikich first met Dunsky at the Indian Valley Meadow Restoration Project, one of many local restoration projects meant to bring health back to the Eldorado National Forest.
The Indian Valley project partnered 11 different organizations including Coca-Cola who invested in the project as a way of offsetting the water footprint of their bottling plant in the Bay Area.
American Rivers states the project “will repair one mile of eroded stream channel and replenish 80 million gallons of groundwater to the meadow.”
According to the “Area Plan” by the High Sierra Resource Conservation and Development Council Inc., the watersheds in El Dorado and three neighboring counties provide 40 percent of California’s water which is used in “power generation, recreation, irrigation, (and) industrial and municipal use.”
EDC-CNPS members recently gathered for another purpose — to pull Scotch broom, an invasive species, along the Dave Moore trail along the American River. Mikich described the plant, “It is very pretty … but it chokes out everything else because it grows so dense.”
Mikich continued, “When we realize the destruction that has taken place, we need to restore the land. We want to see this land be there for our children and our grandchildren. It’s part of our national heritage like a national monument — this is a geological and natural monument, to lose this is worse than losing a building.”
Leopold wrote longingly and passionately, “Man always kills the thing he loves. And so we the pioneers have killed our wilderness. Some say we had to. Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in.”
For more information about Green Fire or to find screenings visit greenfiremovie.com.
For information about the local California Native Plant Society visit eldoradocnps.org or attend one of its upcoming events: Saturday, April 6, Bi-Annual Plant Sale at the El Dorado County Government Center, 360 Fair Lane in Placerville from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturday, April 13, Darling Ridge in Georgetown to see the rare plant Parry’s horkelia.