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Kids And Salmon At The Wildlife Film Festival

WLFF_SussexStudents.jpg
Chérie Newman
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Teacher Pam Ward (left), with Becca Paquette (Center) and Deb Fassnacht (right) from the Watershed Education Network, helps kindergarten students prepare for the WildWalk Parade

The Flying Whales, a group of Kindergarten students at Sussex Elementary in Missoula, are getting ready for the WildWalk Parade, one of the upcoming Wildlife Film Festival activities. In a classroom filled with maps, children’s artwork, stuffed animals, and live birds, the kids try their costumes on and talk about the WildWalk Parade.

Eli:  My name is Eli and I think the Wildwalk Parade is about people walking in animal costumes so people will see like wildlife and be nicer to it, is what I think it’s about.

Turner:  My name is Turner.

CN:  And what’s your costume?

T:  A Rainbow trout.

CN:  And why did you choose to be a trout?

T:  ‘Cause I like trouts.

CN:  Of course. Pam Ward, their teacher, explains how her students got involved with the Wild Walk Parade.

Pam Ward:  Our community service project is with Watershed Education Network. And so they were the ones who inspired us to put together costumes with aquatic insects and creatures. And it ties in with our unit about oviparous creatures—creatures from eggs.

CN:  On the other side of the room, staff from the Watershed Education Network are unfolding a long river made of painted paper. The kids, dressed up like mayflies, aquatic worms, and various kinds of fish, line up to practice their parade walk as Ward explains the paper river.

PW:  So when we’re in the parade, this will be the river and you’ll swim alongside as if you’re a bug swimming in the river. Won’t that be cool?

[Girl:  Hey look! A fishie!]

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Credit John Gussman
ElwhaRiverDamRemoval

CN:  Fish are also central characters in one of the documentary films that will be shown during the Wildlife Film Festival. “Return of the River” tells the story of how Members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe worked with environmental activists, politicians, and officials at Olympic National Park to get two dams removed from the Elwha River. The film was co-produced and directed by Washington State filmmaker Jessica Plumb. Jessica, do you remember the moment you committed to producing this film?

Jessica Plumb:  I really committed myself to producing this film when I was standing at the overlook site for the lower dam. And, by chance, I was there on a school field trip with my daughter’s elementary school, on the very first day that water began to rush through the lower dam after some key pieces had been removed by the jackhammer. And it was just an absolutely thrilling sight to see the river start to roar through the first opening in the dam, and the sense of community celebration around that. I knew at that moment that this was a story that had to be told.  

CN:  What was the central motivation to get rid of the dams? Was it the salmon?

JP:  Initially, it was the decimation of the salmon runs on the Elwha River. And the Elwha River, just for a little context, had once been famous for having all five species of Pacific Salmon. And by the time dams had been on the river for about a century, the previous and enormous runs of salmon on the river had been reduced to something like 2 to 5 percent of their initial abundance. And that was the driving issue. At the same time, there were other issues that were starting to come up. This was also a cultural issue. Essentially, promises to the tribe had been broken. And there were legal issues and economic issues involved as well. The dams, at the time they were built, broke existing environmental laws and that had not been challenged for a very long time. One of them existed within the boundaries of a National Park. And beyond that, that was also the growing recognition that the dams were becoming obsolete. In the end, it was a combination of environmental, economic, and cultural reasons that drove this conversation to a new stage.

CN:  Was it thrilling to film scenes that show parts of the dam being removed? Was there dynamite involved?

JP:  Oh, absolutely, it was thrilling to film those scenes. I should also add, though, that while dynamite was used, really the dam-removal process was technically a very gradual one. Dynamite was used in a couple of key instances and it’s fun to see those segments in the film. [film sound track clip] But a lot of it was done by a giant jackhammer, which you see in the film, as well.

Return of the River” will be shown in the UC Theater in Missoula next Tuesday as part of the Wildlife Film Festival, which begins tomorrow. Seventy other films will be shown in The Roxy Theater.

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