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The New Normal: Moose in Newfoundland

When I’ve produced stories in the past I’ve always been on location with my crew.  But times in television, well sometimes, they are a changing.  This story about the serious problem being caused by an overpopulation of Moose in Newfoundland was a collaboration between cameraman Greg Locke of Straylight Media in Newfoundland and me in Colorado.  We met via Google. I set up the story and found the characters, he was the field producer, cameraman and sound man, and I wrote the story, did the rough cut and even recorded my first voice over ever.  It’s the new normal. I’m proud we managed to tell an important story about how moose in Newfoundland are so abundant that they are causing deadly collisions on the highways prompting a class action lawsuit against the provincial government.  I wish I had been able to go to Newfoundland to produce this story for HDNet’s World Report but I guess we showed it can be done.  A Canada/USA co-proproduction, with two people who never met and still managed to make a difference.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

 

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The Greening of Greensburg

Very early on the morning on May 5, 2007 I got a call from NBC News to hurry from Denver to Greensburg, Kansas.  There had been a huge tornado and the town was devastated.  Go! Go!  When I pulled into the town six hours later I was stunned to see wreckage so complete that even the bark had been pulled off the trees.  These skeleton sentinals stood over a community of people who were lost and dazed.  The EF-5 tornado had 205 mile per hour sustained winds.  Almost the entire town was in ruins.  It was apocalyptic.

The grain elevator was one of the few buildings left standing in Greensburg, Kansas after an EF-5 tornado destroyed the town on May 4, 2007.

It was hard to imagine coming back from that scene or even having the will to rebuild but Greensburg is a plucky town.  One of the residents, who is now the mayor, Bob Dixson, had a sign on his property within days.  It read “Future home of the Dixson family.  We are blessed.”   They were still optimistic.  I guess when you consider that 11 of their neighbors had died and many more were injured, they were among the lucky ones.  I took this photo when I was out there covering the disaster.  The powerful image made me feel hopeful.

The sign in the rubble of Bob Dixson's home in Greensburg, Kansas following the tornado. He and his wife were among the first who decided to rebuild.

The town decided to pull itself out of the rubble by capitalizing on the Green in Greensburg.  They would come back environmentally friendly and create a community that was truly sustainable.   Over the years I had pitched this story to various news outlets with little success but when Budget Travel magazine singled Greensburg out as one of the coolest small towns in America I had a newsworthy hook and HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports said let’s do the story.

Almost five years later I returned to Greensburg and what I saw was as stunning as that first post disaster morning.  The town is cleaned up and there are beautiful new buildings.  The school, the hospital, City Hall and the John Deere dealership are all built back to the highest environmental standard called LEED Platinum.  There is a pretty little Main Street with shops and even a business incubator sponsored by Sun Chips.  People are living in new eco-friendly homes and are saving up to 2/3 on their utility bills.  And there are wind turbines everywhere powering the community.  Imagine using the same wind that destroyed you to help resurrect yourself!

Bob Dixson's eco-friendly rebuilt home today.

Greensburg still has its work cut out for it.  The town has half as many people as it once did but they are determined to repopulate.  Like many of the small towns in rural America, Greensburg had been dying.  But even after the tornado the folks there said we are not dead yet.  So they set out to create a sustainable future, a vision for their tomorrow that would make Greensburg a place children would want to stay, that would be attractive to new families, invite companies to relocate, and create jobs and economic development.

What’s extraordinary here is that folks in Greensburg are very conservative.  These are not tree huggers but they realized that by going green they could build a community of the future.  Today they are an inspiration for other cities reeling from disasters like tornado ravaged Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  In a time when huge disasters seem to come at us with alarming frequency, Greensburg is showing us how to rebuild and recover.  And the message they send is that green goes with their rural values.  It is just common sense.

The foundation of a new Greensburg is in place.  It has been a gut wrenching process for people who lost everything to imagine something this big when it would have been so much easier to somewhere else.  As the town approaches the fifth anniversary of the tornado this May, they have an enormous amount to be proud about.  I personally would like to go back in five years and see how much farther they have come.  If you are traveling along Highway 54 pull off at Greensburg and see what’s been accomplished.  And if you can’t do that, watch tonight on HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports to see the hard work and ingenuity that brought Greensburg back.

Our Dan Rather Reports crew in Greensburg, Kansas during October 2011 covering the remarkable comeback of the town.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

For more of Vicky’s photographs visit Vicky Collins Photography.


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Serengeti Highway: Going the Wrong Way

A plan by the government of Tanzania to build a road through the pristine Serengeti is so misguided, especially when there are other options for commerce. To put a busy road through one of the last untouched spaces on earth is a crime. Thank you Richard Engel of NBC for exploring the subject and to NBC’s Today Show for giving him the time to tell the story.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/40817595#40817595

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Photography: Stepping Up My Game

Just bought a Nikon D7000 camera and Nikkor 18-200 mm 1:3.5-5.6 GII lens. Have set a goal to teach myself to shoot and edit video in the year ahead. My television colleagues are trying to talk me into Final Cut Pro. Also looking into continuing education at the Santa Fe Photography Workshops. Need to enhance the skill set. Time to step up as a photographer and journalist. Nervous and excited. I posted my current portfolio on Flickr. Onward and Upward!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vickycollins/sets/72157625467469718/

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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A Golf Course? You Kidding Me?

In June I visited Murchison Falls National Park, one of East Africa’s gems, with my colleagues Paul Hillman, Godwin Opuly and Mark Jordahl. We went stealthily into the Northern Ugandan game park to document oil drilling there. In 2008, we had been in the park, one of East Africa’s best kept secrets, and upon returning in 2010, we found busloads of oil workers, private roads blocked off to tourists and tons of worry that the oil drilling would harm the park, unsettle the animals and interfere with migration routes of elephants. We spoke with Walter Labongo, the chief warden during the time of Idi Amin, who recalled the decimation of the wildlife population under Amin’s direction. He still cannot forgive Amin for what he did to the elephants and other animals. The populations are coming back and the park is finally recovering. But now, President Museveni and the government of Uganda wants to build a golf course in the park too. Murchison Falls National Park is an amazing ecosystem teeming with wildlife. It is a treasure that will be gone if we don’t take care. Mark Jordahl has been an outspoken voice for conservation in Uganda and one of the park’s best friend. Here is his blog on the matter.

http://conserveuganda.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/murchison-falls-continues-to-be-musevenis-punching-bag-or-punchline/

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Oil Spill: The Ripple Effect

I finally got to the Gulf coast to work on a story about the oil spill for the PBS Newshour. I didn’t see any oil but what I saw was a a boat load of fear. Correspondent Tom Bearden and I visited Bayou La Batre, Alabama to attend a town hall meeting with Ken Feinberg, the Massachusetts lawyer who must decide how to allocate BP’s 20 billion dollar compensation fund. He has done this kind of work previously for victims of 9/11 and Virginia Tech.  Feinberg was mostly reassuring people that help was on the way and was listening to the concerns among the folks who packed city hall at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning. What struck me was how far reaching this catastrophe is on the people who live in towns that dot the Gulf coast. Bayou La Batre bills itself as the “Seafood Capital of Alabama.”  The oil spill has rippled through the whole community disrupting the entire seafood chain.  Obviously the fishermen have lost the season, then there are the people who store and process the seafood like brothers Bruce and Delane Seaman who had to shut down their oyster shucking plant putting about 40 people out of work.  They don’t expect to ever reopen.  Their customers have gone elsewhere.  Then there are folks like Patrick and Lillie Kraver who own Kraver’s restaurant in Daphne, on the other side of Mobile Bay, that sells the seafood and have seen business tumble by about 40%.  When Tom asked them if they could survive they said “God would provide.”  These are people whose families have worked in the seafood industry for generations.  And then there are the more indirect losses. The man who has a candy and gift store on the beach and has seen his tourist traffic dry up, another man who has watched his real estate property values tank, even the local minister who has seen his offerings cut almost in half. He reminded Ken Feinberg that when everyone leaves the area it will be the churches and faith based organizations that care for fragile residents.  People came from as far away as Pensacola, Florida.  Everyone had a story of loss and hardship and a sense of skepticism deep as the Gulf about whether help was really coming or whether this was more PR.  Most have felt jerked around by British Petroleum and are hoping Ken Feinberg is really here to help make them at least partially whole.  He says he has received claims from 48 states so he has a huge task trying to decide who will be eligible to receive money and who doesn’t qualify.  Unlike a hurricane which comes and goes this catastrophe and its impacts could crush the community for years and everyone needs help to weather the storm and stay afloat.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/july-dec10/compensation_07-27.html

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Out of Africa

Just returned from a three week trip to Uganda where we did more video production for BeadforLife (http://beadforlife.org.)  The highlight was seeing women who were dying of poverty just three years ago celebrate paying off homes they saved for and built themselves.  In a joyous ceremony BeadforLife presented 22 women with the titles to the land they sit on.  The women paraded from home to home dancing and ululating, and from what I heard they partied late into the night.  Women owners are extremely rare in Africa and BeadforLife’s Friendship Village in Mukono is an example of what’s possible.  Housing ministers from all over Africa came a few days later to see Friendship Village for themselves and other countries throughout the region are looking to emulate this poverty eradication success story.   

This trip we also visited Murchison Falls National Park to see the animals and also learn more about the oil drilling that’s going on there which is quite shocking in such a pristine place.  It is all happening very quietly and needs to be exposed.  We also visited Worldvision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu.  To hear the testimonies of young men who were abducted in grade school, held captive for 15 years, and forced to be child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army is extremely sobering.  One boy was forced to kill his own brother, another had 22 gunshot scars and a third, thankfully, was now back in school and in his village.  I will blog more about this all later but my friend Mark Jordahl, who was with us on our trip and is a prominent conservationist in Uganda, has written a very powerful blog about the child soldiers.  I hope you’ll read his very moving account of the experience. 

http://conserveuganda.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/what-if-it-was-my-son/

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Animal Suicide

Richard O’Barry gets misty eyed when he talks about Cathy. His beautiful girl died in his arms. Suicide he says. Cathy was a bottlenose dolphin, one of five he trained for the 60’s television hit, “Flipper.” Her death in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium changed his world and set him on a course of activism. “I knew she was tired of suffering,” O’Barry says. “She was living a miserable life and she was tired of being miserable.” Does O’Barry feel responsible? “Of course. I’m the guy who captured her. She’d have been better off if we left her alone.” According to O’Barry, Cathy chose to stop breathing, something dolphins are physiologically capable of, and he believes it was an intentional act brought on by her captivity. He doesn’t care if you believe him or not. It’s his story and he’s sticking to it. Since then he has spent his life crusading for a future where dolphins and orcas will never again see the inside of a tank.

We were out on the water off Key West, Florida, working on a story for HDNet’s World Report about this wild notion of animal suicide. Our correspondent, Jennifer London, was on a journey of discovery to see if it was indeed possible for an animal to commit suicide. O’Barry, who first floated this notion to raised eyebrows in the Oscar award winning documentary, “The Cove,” wanted us to see dolphins in the wild, frolicking in their natural environment, swimming 40 miles a day, speeding through the waves like torpedos in their watery world of sound and vibration. Afterwards, we went to the Miami Seaquarium on Key Biscayne to see how the other half lives, performing for audiences, swimming in circles in small, concrete tanks, begging for fish, away from their social circles and the rhythms of the sea. The contrast was striking.

But can captivity really cause a dolphin to commit suicide? They seem to be smiling, don’t they? What kid hasn’t been charmed by the dolphin’s toothy grin? Dr. Ann Weaver, who studies dolphins in Tampa Bay, calls it a frozen face and doesn’t buy the notion of animal suicide. She acknowledges that animals can get depressed (that’s well documented) but the leap to despair, which is a hopelessness that carries into the future, doesn’t occur. She speaks about a continuum from melancholy to the blues to depression to despondency to despair. According to Dr. Weaver, the final step to despair, which is a tipping point in suicide, is uniquely human. Then there is the powerful survival instinct. “I think everything they are designed to be is to keep on keeping on. So I think suicide is the curse of the human consciousness, but not other consciousnesses. I don’t believe they give up and that’s what suicide requires.”

Dr. Weaver tells us about a dolphin named Whitley who used to beg for food. She chokes up as she describes how the dolphin who had been turned into a beggar, then was maimed by a shark, still came to her looking for one last handout before sinking into the water for the final time. She mentioned a heron who had its bill ripped off yet still tried to catch lizards until it eventually starved to death too. Giving up, she said, is not in the DNA of animals. And suicide involves intention. How can you know what an animal is thinking? “How do we ask the animal if it intended to do this?” Dr. Weaver wonders.

Finally, we visited Dr. Lori Marino, a neuroscientist and marine mammal specialist at Emory University in Atlanta. In the animal behavior world she is a rock star for a mirror test study that showed dolphins recognized their reflections. Self awareness and a sense of past, present and future are essential if one is to commit suicide. She shows us a human brain and a dolphin brain and explains how evolved they both are. Such big brains indicate a high level of cognitive processes. In fact, Dr. Marino believes that humans and dolphins share emotions, that they are more alike than different. “I think the idea that other animals can’t commit suicide because they are hardwired to live is very old fashioned,” Dr. Marino explains. “Basically it says that we are aware of what we are doing and other animals are just driven by this hardwired red in tooth and claw to survive and there is no evidence for that.” So how would they commit suicide? There are examples of dolphins and whales beating their heads on walls and jumping out of their tanks. Hard evidence? No. Tantalizing information. Yes.

So at the end of the day did we find the answer to the question “Can Animals Commit Suicide?” You’ll have to watch HDNet’s World Report on June 8 for a deeper exploration. It’s a provocative inquiry and scientists agree it requires more research. But no matter what the science says it won’t change what Rick O’Barry saw when Cathy looked in his eyes and let herself go. “I lived with her for seven years. She commited suicide. She died in my arms and I experienced that.”

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Earth Day: From Farm to Table at Yosemite

During the Clinton Administration there was a move to green up the national parks.  One of the mandates was to source food locally.  Today one of the most successful examples of this is Yosemite National Park.  All the concessions are run by Delaware North and it has chosen not to go with commodities but rather to buy the produce, meats, eggs and dairy from local growers within a 150 mile radius of the park who use organic standards.  Yosemite’s restaurants and concessions use the goods exclusively. 

The relationship between Yosemite and small growers is reaping a harvest of good.  Yosemite is helping support small businesses so that they can be sustainable.  Yosemite also features them on their menus and educates the public about their contributions.  Visitors to the park are able to have a connection to food and “eat their view.”  The restaurants are able to offer menus with the freshest seasonal products at lower costs because they are not passing along shipping to the guests.  For example this past spring The Ahwahnee had a four course prix fixe menu with seasonal food for $45.  If they had used commodities the same menu would have cost $65 to $70.     

When Percy Whatley became the executive chef of The Ahwahnee he realized he could save money with commodities but chose not too.  He had lived off the land when he was young and helped push the park to go organic.  With him as a catalyst, the park has come to realize the importance of buying locally and serving food from farm to table.  Yosemite buys from larger growers like TD Willey in Madera but they also work with small growers and customize menus so they can purchase product that they have available.  For example Brenda Ostrum of Mountain Meadows Farm in Mariposa plants more varieties of heirloom tomatoes requested by Yosemite and Seth Nietschke of Open Space Meats in Hornitos says the chefs work with him to buy what he has available.  TD Willey agreed to plant fennel and fava beans at Yosemite’s request and Percy buys it all.  The relationship is very symbiotic for Tom and Denness who plant 75 acres and are finding more and more pressures that are driving medium sized growers out of business.

It has also been a huge boost to small growers who are finding the economy difficult at the moment.  Clients are buying less so to have an anchor client like Yosemite is good for their farm economy and also the economy of their communities.  Brenda Ostrum who started farming around the same time Percy took over The Ahwahnee says that what makes small farms viable is support of the local community and people like Percy.  She has only 5 acres for her eggs, chicken and tomatoes.  Seth has only 40 to 50 head of cattle and employs two people.  They are sustainable in part because of Yosemite’s mission.  Farmers are proud to be associated with Yosemite and believe this is a natural marriage.  Yosemite is on the cutting edge of this trend and visitors benefit because they are able to not only enjoy pristine wilderness but also the unique flavor of the region.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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River Jordan Redux

In June 2009 I posted a blog about the dire condition of the River Jordan and how a unique collaboration of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians are cooperating to save it and care for the needs of a parched region.  National Geographic Magazine has done the story “Parting the Waters” for its April edition on Water.  It showcases the environmental dilemma, the political issues that have led to it, and how Friends of the Earth Middle East is committed to solving the crisis.  What’s striking about the story is that, despite the lack of cooperation in the Mideast, people are managing to collaborate over water.  They are fighting together for a resource they can’t live without.     

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/04/parting-the-waters/belt-text

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.