By Kendra Sitton | Editor
Local environmental nonprofit Nature and Culture International is being featured in the award-winning public television series “The Visionaries,” with an episode airing on PBS examining the work the conservation organization does in Latin America to save irreplaceable forests, plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.
In a recent phone interview, Nature and Culture’s President and CEO Matt Clark detailed the work of the nonprofit.
“We help to legally designate lands as protected areas. Once we’ve helped legally create a reserve, we help to make sure it is effectively managed by ensuring that there are appropriate management structures, there is available funding for the management, there are local communities who receive training,” Clark said. “All of our work is what we call bottom up, so the work comes from local communities and reflects what they want to do rather than us coming from the outside and going to our vision of what we think should happen.”
He also said the episode would be interesting to a wide range of people.
“I think they [San Diegans] are gonna see some beautiful scenery, so anyone who’s interested in nature will enjoy it. I think what makes it different than a traditional nature program is the cultural aspect. You’re gonna meet people from Ecuador and Peru – get to know them and see what their lives are like. I think that human element is interesting,” Clark said. “And then the connection to the global issues, so anyone who’s interested in the larger issues of climate change, loss of biodiversity, loss of functioning ecosystems. I think that will resonate with people.”
The “Guardians of the Forest” episode follows two parallel storylines: farmer Doña Omaida’s work in rural Ecuador to preserve her local forest through Nature and Culture International and Carlsbad resident Ivan Gaylor’s journey to found the nonprofit.
Clark said Omaida is a longtime partner of Nature and Culture through her work as the coordinator of an agricultural association near the protected area featured in the episode. In addition, the agricultural association she works for has benefitted from Nature and Culture’s water program.
The producer and director of the episode, Jody Santos, said working with Gaylor and others passionate about saving forest ecosystems was her favorite part of creating “Guardians of the Forest.”
“To them, climate change isn’t a headline but a daily reality, and they have invested their lives in doing triage on saving what’s left,” Santos said in a recent email interview.
Santos said the San Diego-based nonprofit was chosen over other organizations that applied to be featured in the series because of how the group operates with a focus on putting people and cultures first when protecting ecosystems.
“They don’t protect threatened ecosystems by putting fences around them and telling people to keep out. They work with indigenous communities in key ways,” Santos said. “First, they do outreach to these communities, emphasizing the importance of a healthy environment on everything from tourism to farming. Second, they work with communities on creating livelihoods that are less destructive to the forests and waterways — helping people move away from logging and mining, for instance, toward more sustainable practices like ecotourism and sugar cane farms.”
Parts of the episode were filmed in Ecuador and Peru. According to Santos, at the current rate of deforestation in Peru, all the forest will be gone within 50 years.
“We all depend on nature for things we need – clean water, clean air. I could generate a list of 50 things. The thing I find very salient for a San Diego audience who might think Latin America is a long ways away is that the Amazon forest is big enough that it actually impacts our weather in the United States; it impacts our climate,” Clark said. “Anyone who’s interested or cares about climate change, is concerned about increasingly bad wildfires and the drought and floods, so on and so forth, should care about what happens in the Amazon.”
The 23rd season of “The Visionaries” is hosted by actor Sam Waterson, best known for his roles in “The Newsroom” and “Grace and Frankie.” The 12 half-hour episodes span the globe as the documentary-makers follow the lives of ordinary people tackling some of the most intractable problems the world faces.
“I believe that the central idea of ‘The Visionaries’ – doing what you can about huge, intractable problems – is an idea worth encouraging,” Waterston said in a press release.
San Diego’s KPBS2 is airing “Guardians of the Forest” on April 20, 2019, at 5 p.m.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at email@example.com