Several years ago I moved to San Francisco and discovered San Bruno Mountain. Just a few miles south of my house, the mountain was a miracle to my New York eyes — a largely untouched wilderness replete with three endangered butterflies and more than a dozen more rare species.
As I hiked on the mountain over the years, I've watched several housing developments erected there, mostly on prime endangered butterfly habitat. When I saw the damage the bulldozers were doing to the butterflies and their habitat and learned of the important role this mountain has had in national environmental policy, I began my documentary called "The Edge of the Wild" to tell the world about this story. The film was screened on May 30 as part of the San Francisco Green Film Festival at the Roxie Theatre.
"The Edge of the Wild" documents the fallout from a national policy change that was made in 1982 in direct response to a multi-year struggle between local residents, private landowners, and local and national officials over a bid to develop prime endangered butterfly habitat on San Bruno Mountain. To allow these developers to build, Congress actually amended the Endangered Species Act, a law passed in 1973 that prohibited the killing of species that were "endangered," meaning close to extinction.
The amendment allowed landowners to kill the endangered butterflies on San Bruno Mountain. In exchange, they were required to create a plan that was intended to mitigate the loss to the species from the development. "The Edge of the Wild" shows the fallout from this plan on San Bruno Mountain 30 years after its inception. To date, not one acre of new butterfly habitat has been developed, while hundreds of houses have been built. Despite this, the US Government has allowed thousands of similar plans throughout the country, affecting tens of millions of endangered species habitat.
My film is timely, as the Endangered Species Act is under serious attack in Congress this year. Republicans have vowed to dismantle the Act, which would leave privately held wilderness areas in the US open for development, logging, or mining. President Obama has also called for changes to the Act that would make it even more difficult for rare species to become designated as endangered, usually the only stopgap between a very rare species and its demise.
The story of San Bruno Mountain shows the folly of disabling or diminishing the Endangered Species Act, and of what can happen if this important law isn't upheld. Through engaging audiences with this important story, my hope is that people will act to save the Endangered Species Act before it, and the species it protects, become extinct.
To find out more: www.theedgeofthewild.com/takeaction.
Gail Mallimson is the director/producer of The Edge of the Wild. She has more than 15 years' experience as a documentary film professional, and is also a fundraising and communications consultant to nonprofits and small businesses. She is a board member of the grassroots environmental organization San Bruno Mountain Watch, which preserves and protects San Bruno Mountain.