Mark Emery is a nature filmmaker whose work has taken him from Botswana to Alaska. His latest project, however, had him working closer to home. Emery narrated the latest episode of PBS Nature, Wild Florida, which covers the diverse ecosystems of the Sunshine state. He also served as one of the documentary's photographers, filming alligators near the very river along which he grew up.
Growing Up Near Silver Springs
"Where I worked, it was at Silver Springs," says Emery, "and back then, Ross Allen was the hero then. He was on Johnny Carson and Jack Parr, and he just got all of us interested in wildlife."
Ross Allen was a famed herpetologist. He founded the Reptile Institute, which he ran at Silver Springs for 46 years.
"I ended up working there, milking snakes and wrestling alligators five times a day, and two or three of the other people working there were good still photographers, and published." Emery says that's where he learned his techniques--by watching them.
Emery went on to a career as a cinematographer, working with National Geographic, Discovery, and Nature. and he calls "Wild Florida" a rare opportunity to showcase his home state to a national audience- and not just the usual places, like Miami or Orlando--but the whole state, with its many diverse ecosystems.
"It’s a national treasure just as great as any of the large parks out West. You have a tremendous diversity here that, I can’t think of another place in the country that has it. You’re tropical and subtropical... [you] have animals that just don’t live anywhere else in the world, and trees that don’t live anywhere else in the world, like Torreya State Park has the Torreya Tree."
Filming Fire Ecology in North Florida
One section of Wild Florida takes place not far from Torreya State Park, in The Nature Conservancy's Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. Here, the film tracks Gopher Tortoises and Indigo Snakes in longleaf habitat, and discusses fire ecology with The Nature Conservancy.
"All of the inhabitants of the longleaf pine forest – every plant and animal – are not only adapted to frequent fire, they depend on it." Said David Printiss, Conservation Manager for The Natue Conservancy in Nort The entire ecosystem is most productive - more tortoises, quail and deer – when the woods burn every 2-3 years.
"The folks in your area are as advanced on it as anyone in the country," Emery says of North Florida's practitioners of prescribed fire. "These guys were, as you’ll find out in the film, were ejecting little pellets out and going around to areas that had the trees that might have certain woodpeckers nesting in those trees."
Those" certain woodpeckers" are Red Cockaded Woodpeckers which nest in Longleaf pine that's at least 90 years old.
Wild Florida airs on WFSU-TV on Wednesday, February 12 at 8 pm, 7 central. For more information on fire ecology in north Florida, check out the WFSU Ecology Blog.