By KATHRYN R. PETERSON
In an effort to discover the truth behind Yellowstone National Park, a one-hour documentary produced by KBYU-TV explores the environmental impact humans have had during the park’s 126-year history.
“Yellowstone: America’s Eden” is the most comprehensive documentary on Yellowstone as a conservation experiment, said David Scheerer, producer and director.
The documentary will air at 11:30 p.m. Thursday.
Scheerer, a former member of the BYU film faculty who now teaches at Montana State University, said the film got its start with Biologist and BYU Alumni David Condon.
Condon began his work for the Yellowstone Park Service in 1929 and dedicated his life to studying the park’s delicate ecological balance. Condon documented 29 hours of film, showing Yellowstone’s natural wonders as well as mankind’s abuse on its ecosystem.
Together, Condon and Scheerer retrieved the 29 hours of footage from the national archives.
“David told me, ‘Please use my films to tell the truth about Yellowstone,'” Scheerer said.
Three days later Condon died.
“David gave me the central question I was expected to answer as a film director,” Scheerer said.
Condon’s truth, as revealed in his films, was that the park could not survive the paradox of allowing millions of tourists to come every year while at the same time attempting to preserve its natural wilderness, Scheerer said.
Yellowstone, the birthplace of wilderness preservation, came to represent the ongoing struggle between those seeking to achieve balance with the environment and those wanting to conquer and control the elements, Scheerer said.
The documentary targets hunters, tourists and bureaucrats as the focal cause of Yellowstone’s threatened ecological diversity.
Sixty-million buffalo were reduced to a few dozen as hunters systematically slaughtered them, a way to drive American Indians from their homeland. Tourists left trails of litter and even stuffed Old Faithful’s spout to watch them shoot up into the sky.
“My film asks, ‘How have we done as stewards of the earth?’ There’s no better truth than the truth that’s found with your eyes,” Scheerer said referring to his documentary.
Sterling Van Wagenen, executive producer, said Condon’s films allow others to learn the importance of not just Yellowstone’s ecosystem, but the earth in general.
“The real issue is the interconnected process in nature, a notion that only came about just 20 years ago,” Van Wagenen said. “Once we realize everything is connected we’re more likely to be better stewards of our environment.”
Jim Bell, manager of KBYU Creative and Information Services, said the documentary is of significant importance because it is the first time Condon’s footage will be viewed to the public.
“You see (Condon) prophesying of the issues that the park will be facing,” Bell said.