The Wild: How do you save what you love?
The Wild: How do you save what you love?

Salmon took cen­ter stage at this year’s Seat­tle Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, with mul­ti­ple doc­u­men­taries either direct­ly or tan­gen­tial­ly address­ing this top­ic that is so impor­tant to the Pacif­ic North­west and our environment.

Per­haps the most antic­i­pat­ed of these films (for me, at least) was “The Wild,” direct­ed by Mark Titus. It is a fol­low-up to his 2015 film “The Breach,” which I pre­vi­ous­ly reviewed here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate.

But for a dif­fer­ent out­come in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, mak­ing “The Wild” might not have been nec­es­sary — or, at least, it would be a very dif­fer­ent film.

“The Breach” ends with the good news that Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma’s Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) had issued a report con­clud­ing that a pro­posed cop­per mine in the head­wa­ters of Bris­tol Bay, Alas­ka would have a detri­men­tal impact on the salmon fish­ery. This meant that the per­mit process for the Peb­ble Mine was essen­tial­ly stopped before it started.

This was great news for Bris­tol Bay and any­one else who cares about the envi­ron­ment, espe­cial­ly salmon and their role in the envi­ron­ment. How­ev­er, as I not­ed in my 2017 arti­cle about “The Breach,” Scott Pruitt, Trump’s first head of the EPA, met with the CEO of the min­ing com­pa­ny, Peb­ble Lim­it­ed Part­ner­ship, in May of that year and hours lat­er rescind­ed he Oba­ma-era pro­pos­al to pro­tect the area.

Cover poster for The Wild
World pre­miere poster for The Wild

This brings us to the start of “The Wild.” Hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly thought this one bat­tle for salmon was already won, Titus now had to ask him­self, and through the sub­ti­tle of the film, asks all of us, “how do you save what you love?”

At the first screen­ing of “The Wild”, which was the world pre­miere of the film, Titus intro­duced the film with his answer: that “con­nec­tion, ulti­mate­ly, can save us.”

In the film he con­nects with many activists, both every­day cit­i­zens and local and nation­al celebri­ties, dis­cussing their con­nec­tion to Alaska’s Bris­tol Bay, the east­ern-most arm of the Bering Sea, and what they are doing to try to pro­tect it.

Renowned Seat­tle chef and restau­ra­teur Tom Dou­glas, who was also at the pre­miere, notes in the film that it’s eas­i­er to main­tain a unblem­ished habi­tat like Bris­tol Bay than to try to recov­er salmon in places like Seat­tle where humans have already caused so much envi­ron­men­tal damage.

A school of sockeye
The Wild
Release Year: 2019
Direc­tor: Mark Titus
Run­ning Time: 60 min­utes

Watch trail­er

Bris­tol Bay is the last remain­ing undam­aged salmon fish­ery in the world, and it has been sup­port­ing a Native Amer­i­can sub­sis­tence cul­ture for over four-thou­sand years. There are also very active com­mer­cial and sport fish­ing indus­tries, with a total of 14,000 jobs con­nect­ed to the fishery.

Even with all of this fish­ing, the fish­ery is close­ly and sus­tain­ably man­aged so that salmon pop­u­la­tion does not decrease.

Peb­ble’s CEO Tom Col­lier argues that the mine would cre­ate 800 to 1,000 jobs for the next twen­ty years, and that “it’s pret­ty damn easy to sit in Seat­tle and say that they should­n’t have devel­op­ment in rur­al Alaska.”

How­ev­er, putting 14,000 jobs at risk for adding a frac­tion as many for a finite peri­od of time does­n’t sound like smart devel­op­ment, no mat­ter where you live.

Col­lier does not leave a good impres­sion on view­ers, lead­ing me to ask Titus why he thought Col­lier was will­ing to be inter­viewed for the film.

He said he is not sure, but thought it could mix of two the­o­ries that I posit­ed: first, that Peb­ble feels embold­ened by EPA rever­sal and cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion and there­for are not as defen­sive, and sec­ond, that they are feel­ing des­per­ate to get the mine per­mit­ted as soon as pos­si­ble before there is anoth­er Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and that they want to get their mes­sage in front of any cam­era they can.

“I think Peb­ble desired a per­cep­tion of trans­paren­cy, nor­mal­cy and legit­i­ma­cy to the pub­lic,” Titus said.

Direc­tor Mark Titus

It’s not a giv­en that the EPA will okay the per­mit Col­lier is seek­ing, and Peb­ble, by Col­lier’s admis­sion, has already spent $700 mil­lion to get to this point.

The Army Corps of Engi­neers is cur­rent­ly accept­ing pub­lic com­ments on their Draft Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ment (DEIS) and will like­ly issue their final Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ment in the spring of 2020, Titus says.

They will then issue a deci­sion, which could either be an approval of the per­mit with the mine pro­pos­al as it is, approval of the per­mit with con­di­tions, or a denial of the application.

A mine expert quot­ed in the film says that the mine is not eco­nom­i­cal­ly fea­si­ble unless they make it much big­ger than pro­posed in the per­mit appli­ca­tion, and there­fore the cur­rent DEIS is wrong.

Col­lier says it is like­ly that there would be addi­tion­al phas­es of the mine, but that each expan­sion has to go through the per­mit process.

Activists fear that once the ini­tial appli­ca­tion is approved, it will be next to impos­si­ble for the oth­er phas­es to be denied. Plus, even just the ini­tial scope of the mine will cause cat­a­stroph­ic dam­age to Alas­ka and the Earth, our com­mon home.

After the pre­miere and two addi­tion­al show­ings at SIFF, the film is next going to be screened in Alas­ka, then it will be going on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit. Titus and his team at Eva’s Wild will be con­nect­ing to peo­ple at screen­ings and “offer­ing mul­ti­ple ways for peo­ple to take action through use of their votes, voic­es and dol­lars,” Titus said.

The DEIS pub­lic com­ment peri­od ends July 1st.

Save Bris­tol Bay has a form with a mes­sage that you can cus­tomize to be sent in to the pub­lic com­ment email. You can get more infor­ma­tion of the pro­posed mine and it’s poten­tial impact there or on Eva’s Wild. Eva’s Wild also has trail­ers of “The Wild”, infor­ma­tion about upcom­ing screen­ings, copies of “The Breach” for pur­chase, con­tact infor­ma­tion if you want to host a screen­ing of “The Breach”, and a mail­ing list you can sign up for to keep abreast of the issue.

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