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'DamNation': Trailer and Q&A With the Filmmakers


If you’ve seen Red Gold, about efforts to stop the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, you know the documentary-making prowess behind Felt Soul Media. The trailer for the team’s next film, DamNation, has just been released.

Conceived by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and biologist Matt Stoecker, who is co-producing the film with Felt Soul Media’s Travis Rummel, DamNation documents the current movement to dismantle outdated and dangerous dams across the United States. It also explores the history of U.S. dam-building and focuses on the environmental and economic impacts they’ve wrought. The film, which won a 2011 Mountainfilm Commitment Grant and is being edited by Ben Knight, is due out early next year.

With the Elwha River running nearly completely free and salmon populations starting to rebound, it’s a good time to be a river. But the drama is just beginning to unfold. Watch the trailer, below, and then check out our Q&A with Travis Rummel and Matt Stoecker on the making of the movie.

What do you want people who watch DamNation to come away with, in terms of understanding the role that major dams and hydropower have played in American history and development?

Travis Rummel: There is absolutely no doubt that dams and hydropower have helped develop our country into what it is today. The industrial revolution happened next to rivers that powered mills and carried away their pollution. Many attribute the Grand Coulee and Bonneville Dams on the Columbia system with helping us to victory in World War II. We will definitely pay tribute to the role that hydropower has played in helping us get where we are today, but look at where we are. The continental United States is quickly losing its salmon and steelhead. A free-flowing river is an anomaly. We are beginning to realize the costs of divorcing rivers from the sea: beaches lacking sand and headwaters lacking salmon. Ecosystems are being stripped of the fuel that drives them. The beauty of dam removal is that it works quickly. This film is about hope and the power to restore what has been lost in the name of progress.

Matt Stoecker: Dams have played a vital role in building America. The people who built them were ambitious and well intentioned. But, like coal-fired power plants, dams have come with a high cost to the health of our shared environment. It's time for a shift to technologies that deliver truly clean energy, maximize water efficiency, and protect people and the environment. Replacing dams with such technologies achieves this vision and as the movie will hopefully show, any motivated citizen can lead an effort to remove a dam; it's how almost all of the successes have been started.

The argument for removing the outdated Elwha River dams (Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon) was such a no-brainer. What dams, in your opinion, are not such an easy call? Are there any major dams that you don't think should be deconstructed despite petitions to do so?

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By the Numbers: The Rise of Mountain Lions in the Midwest

Cougar. Photo: Shutterstock

Cougars are on the rise in the Midwest. From 1990 to 2008, the number of sightings confirmed by wildlife professionals increased. That's good news for fans of big cats, which were extirpated from most of that area around 1900. In a recent issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management, Michelle LaRue of the University of Minnesota documented sightings by state, courtesy of data collected from The Cougar Network. (While counting, she and her team left out numbers from two areas where cougars have established populations: the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Badlands of North Dakota post-2006.) We contacted LaRue to learn a bit more about her study, "Cougars Are Recolonizing the Midwest: Analysis of Cougar Confirmations During 1990–2008." She let us know that since 2008, the numbers have continued to increase. Here's a breakdown of the rise of mountain lions in the Midwest, by the numbers.

178: Total cougar sighting confirmations in 14 states and provinces in midwestern North America between 1990 and and 2008, using data only verified by qualified wildlife professionals.

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Environmentalists Are Literally Dying to Protect Land and Resources

Deforestation_flickr_maraPhoto: Mara/Flickr

One of our top 10 environmental news stories of 2011 was the troubling violence that environmental activists face in many parts of the world, particularly in Brazil, where three high-profile activists were slain last May. While researching that story, I'd found reports of nine murdered environmentalists last year around the world. I had only just scratched the surface.

A story last week in German newspaper Der Spiegel about the ongoing violence says that there were 29 deaths in Brazil alone. Much worse, a report from the NGO Global Witness shows a very troubling trend, with 106 activists killed worldwide in 2011—a death toll that is nearly double the number killed in 2009.

Brazil has begun offering some protection for small farmers and others who have spoken against the logging and cattle industries as they continue to push into the Amazon. But bounty hunters, reportedly hired by a logging industry mafia, continue to threaten them. Der Spiegel interviewed 45-year-old Nilcilene Miguel de Lima, who is part of a government-backed effort to increase sustainable farming and has a $10,080 bounty on her head because she filed a complaint over illegal logging activities.

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The Not-So-Silver Lining of Your Anti-Microbial Outdoor Apparel

Nanotech_research_bed Simulated wetland used in silver nanoparticle research at Duke University. Photo: Benjamin Espinasse

In recent years, many outdoor apparel manufacturers have embraced a new range of anti-microbial textile coatings that are designed to inhibit the growth of bacterial and fungus that cause odors. Less stinky clothes means less stinky people, so it obviously has great marketing appeal—especially for clothing and socks that one might wear for numerous days in the backcountry. Plus, less stinky clothes means having to do less laundry, so that could add up to real energy and water savings for consumers.

But anti-microbial coatings might have a dark side. Many of these coatings use nanoparticles of silver—silver being the anti-microbial agent. A 2009 study showed that washing these textiles releases silver nanoparticles into waste water. From there, they could then enter the environment. And because silver is a known aquatic toxin, that concerns scientists. Now, a study conducted by researchers from Duke University and other institutions for the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology, has revealed something even more troubling: Silver nanoparticles released into the environment can end up as a silver contaminant in terrestrial plants and aquatic animals. What's more, the silver was found in the organisms' offspring.

"You expose silver nanoparticles to one generation and it shows up in the next generation," says Martin Mulvihill, the executive director of U.C. Berkeley's Center for Green Chemistry and the author of a recent article about the study published in Environmental Health News. "It crosses the barrier between generations, and that is of the greatest concern. The Duke study shows silver nanoparticles persisted in the environment and underwent changes that might make it dangerous [to plants and animals]," he says.

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A Rio+20 Primer: 'Ecosystem Services' and Other Action Words

Earth_shutterstock_KesuPhoto: Kesu/Shutterstock

I know, it's Friday and in your head you're probably half-way down the nearest trail or river already. But next week, world leaders are meeting in Rio, 20 years after their last meeting there (thus, "Rio+20") to try to hammer out some meaningful agreements at the United National Conference on Sustainable Development.

If you follow these U.N. conferences, you know that they tend (especially in recent years) to fail to produce binding agreements. And you know that with each failure, the need for nations to collaborate and cooperate to mitigate the effects of climate change becomes more and more dire.

So, with that in mind. Here's a quick primer on some key issues on the agenda, as well as a round-up of Rio+20 news sources worth your attention.

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