Film explores ecological diversity of Klamath-Siskiyou region

Makers of a documentary on the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion hope it will move people to work toward protecting its ecological diversity.

Called "A Wild American Forest," the film will air at 7 p.m. today in the Meese Auditorium at Southern Oregon University, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd.

The hourlong documentary, narrated by Susan Sarandon, began showing on PBS affiliates in December. It was made by Doug Prose and Diane LaMacchia, a husband-wife team from Oakland, Calif., who will be on hand tonight to answer questions. DVD versions of the film will be for sale, and desserts and coffee will be served. The film will show on Southern Oregon Public Television at 8 p.m. Feb. 6 and 8.

Prose and LaMacchia, who've made multiple documentaries on natural wonders and national monuments for PBS affiliates, said they were surprised to find none had been done on the "ancient sylvan paradise" that runs from the Umpqua to the Sacramento Valley and from the Interstate 5 freeway to the coast.

Prose discovered the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion during his college days, "hiking the Trinity Alps Wilderness and learning what an incredible place it is — remote, rugged, with a biodiversity that just reaches out to you."

The couple single out dams and clear-cutting as excesses of the last two centuries, but LaMacchia notes things are changing in the Pacific Northwest. Dams are being taken out, and logging, once a driving economic force for the region, has been replaced by tourism and other industries.

"The film shows how the economy is so much more diverse now, with no one industry on which everything else rests," LaMacchia said.

The couple spent three years exploring the steep canyons of the Illinois, Smith, Rogue and Klamath rivers, and said they found the terrain so "dissected" and wrought with winding logging roads that it sometimes took many hours to get to one desired spot to shoot a few minutes of film.

Often, they would be guided by savvy local scientists, such as botanist Frank Callahan of Central Point, who took them to see the world's widest incense cedar in Red Buttes Wilderness.

"When we go (shooting film), we like to hang out with people. It's really fun," said Prose. "Frank would point out all the edible wild berries, the best ones we ever tasted."

Dominick DellaSala, president of Geos Institute in Ashland, explains in the film how the Klamath-Siskiyou region "serves as an oasis of life," but that decades of clear-cutting have in many areas created a "biologically sterile landscape, lacking the richness of life in an old-growth forest" and producing unstable soils that erode into streams and destroy salmon spawning sites.

But much old-growth forest still survives, he says, and is home to many more species than survive in the rest of the West. Some 39 species of conifer live in the region, more than anywhere else, he says.

The film presents shots of Ashland and Jacksonville to show how local economies thrive on wilderness beauty in the hope that viewers will "be more aware, want to protect it more and increase the amount of old growth that isn't now protected," LaMacchia said.

Prose hopes that people living in areas heavily dependent on extraction-based industries will view the documentary and say, "'Wait a minute, we should preserve what we have,'" Prose said. "It points a direction you should go, to preserve biodiversity."

The film was funded by investment banker Mark and Christina Headley of Berkeley, Calif., who have a home in the Colestin Valley next to Charlie Selberg, Mark Headley's fencing master and a commentator in the movie.

"I've been here 27 years," Selberg says in the film, "and every day is different and stunningly beautiful. Anyone who lives in this forest will fall in love with it. Thousands of life forms can't exist without it, and I don't believe we can either."

Information on the film is at

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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