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DL woman involved in Nat'l Geographic environmental films

As the executive director of Natural Innovations, Erika Johnson has long been involved with environmental issues on a local level.

But recently, the Detroit Lakes resident has been able to reach a more global audience, by filming a series of short documentary pieces for the National Geographic television show "Wild Chronicles."

The first segment in that series, "Forest Police," will air locally on PBS Channel 2 tonight (Sunday) at 7 p.m.

Johnson went to Belize, Central America, to film the documentary piece, which shows how eight forest rangers in Belize do their jobs -- protecting 260,000 acres of pristine tropical rainforest from illegal poachers, loggers, squatters, archaeological looters, drug trafficking, etc.

The piece also focuses on an environmental project called Programme for Belize, one aspect of which involves U.S. corporations helping to fund forest preservation efforts by purchasing so-called "carbon credits."

Rainforest preservation, Johnson said, not only helps slow global warming by preventing the release of carbon from felled trees into the atmosphere, but also protects wildlife and promotes biodiversity.

The money raised through Programme for Belize also goes toward funding local schools, hospitals and community projects in Belize's rainforest, Johnson says.

Johnson made the trip to Belize with her son, Christian, who worked as a camera grip on the project. While he enjoyed some aspects of the trip, such as getting to work with the forest rangers on bird identification and exploring some of the area's archaeological sites, Johnson said, he found the actual filming process to be "pretty boring."

The next project in the series is a piece Johnson just finished filming in Honduras, which is about "preserving the rainforest and empowering its people."

"Next month I'll be going back to Belize to do a story about over-fishing (i.e., depleting the fish population)," she said.

Johnson first became interested in doing a documentary during a volunteer trip to Ecuador, where she learned about how the local people were getting income from carbon credits.

She did some research, then pitched the idea to National Geographic, and they gave her the green light.

Johnson also did an edited version of the "Forest Police" documentary for Programme for Belize and the Nature Conservancy (a program sponsor) to use for educational and marketing purposes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 15 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454
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