I grew up in Arlington, Virginia, and developed my lifelong interest in the natural world during daily explorations along a creek that flowed from my neighborhood down to the Potomac River. I discovered where salamanders and crayfish hid under rocks, learned the names of the native plants, where groundhogs would hibernate, and when box turtles would make their appearance each spring.
I moved to Seattle in my early twenties, and got a job as a photographer and editor in the production department of KING-TV, working on both regular programming and public affairs documentaries.
I left KING after a few years, and worked as a freelance filmmaker and independent producer. I began to produce environmental documentaries focused on the issues affecting my adopted landscapes — primarily forests, salmon, and water.
My first major environmental documentary was Critical Habitat, an examination of the scientific, economic, and political issues underlying the conflict over the northern spotted owl. Critical Habitat won several awards, and aired on public television stations nationwide. Educational versions have been distributed to schools internationally. I continued to focus on forest, salmon and stream issues. In 1996 I produced the documentary Torrents of Change. It stirred a simmering controversy within the U.S. Forest Service, but was eventually embraced by reformers who were trying to institute science-based policies within the agency.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I took a slight detour into the world of corporate video, mostly in the supercomputer industry with clients such as Cray.
I wanted to to return to making environmental documentaries, but I had begun to doubt the effectiveness of my past approach. I had long thought that if I could effectively communicate the underlying science of environmental issues, people would see the light and change their ways.
I came to view most of my environmental work as preaching to the choir. In searching for a new approach I soon came to focus on the topic of fairness. I saw disagreements over what was fair as the underlying cause of most environmental conflicts – both interpersonal and intergenerational fairness. In the course of my research into the underpinnings of the human sense of fairness, I created two multimedia stories, the Evolution of Unfairness, and Are We Born with a Sense of Fairness? both originally published in Pacific Standard magazine.
In the course my investigations, I also discovered the work of Elinor Ostrom, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009, for developing of the design principles for common-pool resource groups.
In 2013 I was contacted by the Evolution Institute. They had republished both of the fairness stories in their magazine, This View of Life. In one of life’s happy coincidences, they invited me to attend the initial planning session for a project that would come to be known as PROSOCIAL, a method of implementing a generalized version of Ostrom’s design principles for any human group. I produced an introductory video, and helped develop the methods and approach. I was the project’s coordinator through the end of 2017.
In 2014, an opportunity arose to combine my interests in fairness and environmental issues. The Siuslaw National Forest, the subject of my 1996 film Torrents of Change, had gone through a transformation over the previous 18 years. It exemplified how solutions to environmental conflicts can be achieved through a dedication to fairness, when everyone is willing to sit down and talk. The result was Seeing the Forest, my most recent documentary film.
I am currently working with three other filmmakers to develop a feature-length documentary about the Salish Sea.