“Golden Eagles in the Changing American West” with filmmaker David Rohm

“Golden Eagles in the Changing American West” with filmmaker David Rohm>
“Golden Eagles in the Changing American West” with filmmaker David Rohm>

In this episode of Winds of Change, filmmaker David Rohm provides valuable insights into the challenges faced by golden eagles in the changing American West. As one of the founders of Wild Excellence Films, specializing in bird behavior and conservation, Rohm's expertise and dedication to wildlife preservation shine through in the conversation. He discusses the detrimental impact of climate change, invasive species, and energy development on golden eagle populations, offering a unique perspective on the issues faced by these majestic birds. Rohm's personal journey from Pennsylvania to Wyoming, and his passion for showcasing the beauty of wildlife through filmmaking, adds a compelling narrative to the episode. Furthermore, the discussion on Dr. Charles Preston's conservation efforts and the struggle to protect golden eagles in the Bighorn Basin emphasizes the importance of balanced development and conservation. Rohm's insights and commitment to raising awareness about wildlife conservation make this episode a valuable listen for nature enthusiasts and individuals concerned about the preservation of golden eagles in the evolving landscape of the West. 

Filmmaker David Rohm's Impact

David Rohm, an award-winning filmmaker, and co-founder of Wild Excellence Films is dedicated to telling natural history stories and advancing bird conservation. With a passion for wildlife and nature, David's work focuses on bird behavior, research, and scientific advancements, reflecting his commitment to protecting the environment. Wild Excellence Films, Golden Eagles Witnesses to a Changing West, sheds light on the challenges faced by these majestic birds in the rapidly evolving American West. Through his collaboration with wildlife experts, David brings a unique perspective to the conversation on golden eagle conservation efforts.

About Wild Excellence Films

Wild Excellence Films is an award-winning film production company that specializes in telling compelling natural history stories that promote conservation and science, educating audiences while immersing them in the beauty of the natural world. Their primary focus is bird behavior, bird research, and scientific advancements in bird conservation. Our films are factual yet personal, dramatic, and cinematic. From development to filming, editing to narration and script, Wild Excellence Films is a complete production company. 

#GoldenEagles #WildlifeConservation #ChangingWest #NatureEnthusiasts




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Welcome to winds of change brought to you by Wyoming humanities. I am your host, Emy DiGrappa. My special guest is filmmaker David Rohm, talking about the film golden eagles witnesses to a changing west. Golden eagles, witnesses to a changing west tells the story of the stunning golden eagle, a raptor with seven foot wingspan and powerful talons that faces many challenges in the rapidly changing american west. From climate change to sprawl, invasive species to disease, lead poisoning to energy development, these magnificent birds are under threat from many directions in this film, repel into eagles nests, go behind the scenes at wildlife rehabilitation centers, hear stories of indigenous peoples and their connections to the eagle.         


And this is brought to you by wild excellence Films, an award winning film production company that specializes in telling natural history stories. Their primary focus is bird behavior, bird research, and scientific advancements in bird conservation. And that's why I'm excited to share this interview with you, not only because I love hearing people's stories, but especially because our curiosity and love for animals in wild places knows no limits. When you live in Wyoming, I'll be posting some links in the description so you can watch the film and learn more about their work. Wild excellence films and the film Golden Eagles witnesses to a changing west.         


Hi, Emmy. Thank you for having me today. Well, I love the name of your company, and I want to know how you came up with that. Was that a tough one? Because there's so many different film making companies out there in the world today.         


Sure, it was extremely difficult, but we have a friend who lives in Wyoming in the sunlight basin area, and we spend a lot of time there, of course. And we saw her book, and it's called the Wild Excellence. And it's an amazing book by author Leslie Patton. And we love the mean. Her story is incredible.         


She could be her own documentary film. And we've talked her, tried to talk her into it a couple of times, but she's this amazing woman, and she lives in the sunlight base in a really wild and remote area. And she wrote this book about her experience about coming to Wyoming from California. So we love the title. So we just wrote to her.         


And the title is based on a poem by Pablo Nareda. I think that's the way they say it. He is a chilean poet, and, I mean, he's long since passed, but a pretty well known chilean poet. It's from one of his poems called the wild excellence. And the point behind it is that wilderness has its own form of excellence.         


It doesn't have the judgment. It just as in its pure and natural state, it is already. Excellent. So that's kind of how know want our films to be kind of wild and know appeal to a lot of people like nature does. So that's how we came up with the asked.         


We asked Leslie Patton, the author, if we could use it. And she goes, well, it's not really mine, but sure, you can use it. And we ended up being friends with her and we went out to see her and visit her at her home and spend time with her and her dog and went on a big hike. And now we're kind of friends. So that's a real bonus for us.         


What came first, your love for filmmaking or your love for wildlife and conservation? I would think wildlife and conservation, we just could never, I mean, Melissa, my wife, one of the partners of wild excellence, was a very good photographer for a long time, and we kind of got away from it for a little while. We had a newspaper in the Wyoming area for a little while back in 2002, 2004. So we were always trying to figure out how to get back out there. And we just started doing some other short films, like around Pennsylvania where we live.         


We were just trying to always figure out a way to call attention to these amazing places and this amazing country where we live and the incredible wildlife that surrounds us. I mean, if anything, this current crisis has taught us it's look at the wildlife that surrounds know and you see that a lot in, but you know, it's pretty hard for us here in, you know, really get a full wildlife. Just, you know, this lands really segmented. There's not a lot know, open space. I mean we do over areas, but mostly we have to travel to pretty far away.         


Just know get a glimpse at some elk or something. So you live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania? Yeah. And what was your journey to Wyoming? What story were you following that brought you to Wyoming in the first place?         


We got married in 1999 and our first trip out west was to New Mexico and that was to bosque del Patche. And we had an amazing time there. But then we started talking about Yellowstone. I guess we went to Yellowstone 2001, maybe it was 2000. We just couldn't go anywhere else after that.         


I mean, we've been some small places, but anytime we could afford it and we just always go to Yellowstone. So once we started going to the park, most of the park is in Wyoming. We started venturing farther, farther out, like down in the cody. Then when we had our newspaper called the bare tooth Times, we really got into Wyoming and just found just a spectacular place. And the people were always so welcoming and nice.         


It's kind of got it in our dna. And now I remember we were pulled over on the road one time in the park and we were talking to another couple there, and they're like, all our friends say, you know, there's other places to visit besides Yellowstone. And we just, you know, not for us either. So for, you know, it's always Yellowstone. So when you fell in love with Yellowstone and what was your story and your passion to create the film that you created about the bald eagle?         


Is it the bald eagle or is it the golden eagle? It is the golden eagle. Thank you for that correction. Yeah. What is the name of the film?         


Oh, first of all, this is an amazing question. The film is called golden eagles, witnesses to a changing west. Okay. And it's really about golden eagles in the bighorn basin and some outside, some in know, mainly in Wyoming, though a little bit in the park maybe, but it's really about the sage brush step habitat and the golden eagles, which are doing okay, but they're under tremendous amount of pressure because of their prey species. So really it's the work with the center of the west and Dr.         


Charles Preston, who was curator of the Nancy Carroll Draper Natural History Museum for many, many years. So we ended up becoming friends with Dr. Preston, Charles Preston, and he works out of the center of the west. And we have a relationship with them. And so we thought through Leslie Patton, we met Dr.         


Preston. We were looking for owls one day and we couldn't, great gray owls and we couldn't find them anywhere. In fact, we still never seen one in Wyoming. And we just happened to mention it to Leslie Pathen, the author of the Wild Excellence. She goes, oh, well, my boss down at the center of the west, he knows where all those owls are.         


So we ended up talking to him. And he's very well known and well respected scientist and curator at the center of the west. So we've always loved golden eagles. In fact, Melissa and I, that's kind of how we met, through a golden eagle here in Pennsylvania, which is a story in. So that's kind of how we got into this project.         


And it's a long process. Anytime you're doing something for PBS, nature, it's a really long process, but we're getting closer to full production. So we're pretty excited about that. And with your help, too, Wyoming humanities, it's a huge help to us. Thank you.         


Well, absolutely. And that's why I wanted to have this discussion with you, because you are one of our grantees. And when we give grants, we really want to dig into what is the meat and the passion in this grant that what we want to ask you is, why do you do what you do? Why should we care? And what's important about your work, why.         


You should care for people in Wyoming, we're conservation poemakers, but we're not anti development or anything like that. That's ridiculous. That's a dead argument. People have to live and you need people. You need wild spaces, too.         


There's always a compromise. But when I went to Cody, I haven't been to Cody for 14 years. The southern end down towards. Once you come out of the main, you pass the center of the west and you're heading towards end of the park. I didn't even recognize that you're heading down towards Wapati.         


That's how build up it was. So the west is changing. It's changing particularly fast. And I don't even think I said that to a few local people. And they're like, what are you talking about?         


I'm like, these buildings weren't here when I was here. They're like, well, what are we going to do? And I was like, well, through our filmmaking, we just want you to know that you can have both. You can have conservation and a good economy and jobs and developing spaces that you need for businesses. I mean, we're a business, we're pro business.         


So we just want to make sure that everything. Look at what you have. We just don't have that here. Like I mentioned in Pennsylvania, because where we are, you just have a tremendous assets, wildlife and tourism, and dollars being spent just to see a buffalo or antelope or something. So that's what we really care about.         


And when species are in decline, there's a reason they're in decline. And sometimes it's not human cause sometimes it's another cause. And through our films, if we can inspire people to care or maybe take a look at this a little different, we can save many species, even our own. So that's really why we do this. I like that last part, even our own.         


So tell me the threats that you see that are increasing for the golden. Eagle, one threat that no one even knew about, like, when they put up power lines, golden eagles have this massive wingspan. It's six to 8ft. So when they put up power lines, you have to power. But if you just do it a little bit differently, like add a little extension at the top, then the eagles can't rest there.         


And their wings, once they cross the lines, that's when they get electrocuted. So that cuts down tremendously. And the power companies aren't going around thinking, oh, we're just going to do whatever we want. No, they're trying to comply like eagles. But then when you have incidents like electrocution, that's a huge problem, and we can all work together on a solution.         


And there's grants for companies, and they usually very open to working with scientists and conservationists, so we all have to work together. But electrocution is a problem. Lead poisoning. There's a place in the sunny basin where they were doing target shooting, and it was on BLM land, Bureau of Land Management land, and they didn't even know they were shooting underneath the golden eagle. Sniffs we're not trying to fringe on anybody's rights, but they didn't really have to be shooting right there when they found out.         


They were kind of really shocked to know that. And there's all that lead in the ammunition and everything, plus the disturbance. Eagles will abandon the nest if they get enough disturbance. There's collisions with cars and resources. There's like, the Teton Raptors center do an amazing job of rehabbing injured eagles, but some don't recover.         


And our study, our film is really about the Dr. Preston's scientific, amazing scientific research into the prey species. No one really went into the nest until Dr. Preston started repelling down into the nest. And there's everything in there, bones, there's live animals.         


There's know everything an eagle would know. And we have it in our little short film trailer. We show kind of what they collect in a nest, and that's how he was able to determine. It's really about rabbits. If rabbit populations crash for any number of reasons, disease or habitat loss or just reproductive rates, eagle populations just crash right along with them.         


So it's important to see, well, what's affecting the rabbits. And it goes on and on and on. Well, rabbits eat this. That's what's so interesting about filmmaking. You could kind of COVID all that in an hour worth of filming and an hour documentary.         


And then it's big help to land managers and to conservationists and to residents, too. Maybe a resident puts in a say, hey, I want to help these rabbits and fixes up their yard a little bit. There's big spaces out there, or maybe they change things a little bit with their habitat or section off places for wildlife, and then they begin to recover. That is really, I think so informational to talk about those serious challenges that you just mentioned and the fact that people aren't trying to be intrusive but we are. But the fact that you can educate people and create a beautiful film that tells a story.         


And so I thank you so much, David, for your time talking to me today. Thank you so much and thank you for your support. There's one scene in the film, it's about Native Americans relationship to the golden eagle. And it was just very hard to get funding to do that one scene. And that's where Wyoming humanities came in.         


We really needed help doing that. And it's so important not only to native peoples, but to everyone to realize that there's a whole culture out there that is being lost and people don't know about. And it's to be appreciated and respected. And the native people in Wyoming just have this tremendous relationship with golden eagles spiritually and physically. So that's really part of the film that we can't wait to get out there and film.         


Well, I look forward to seeing your film. And it's called Golden Eagles witnesses to a changing west. And it's by wild excellence Films in partnership with Wyoming Humanities Council. Thanks, David. Correct?         


Yep. Thank you, Emi, so much.         


Thank you for listening. I'm executive producer Emy DiGrappa. Winds of Change is brought to you by Wyoming humanities, our co hosts and all the people who generously share their stories and their time. For more information, go to thinky.org subscribe and never miss a show.