The Local Quest to Save a Northern California Wilderness

A local nonprofit and a digital creative agency are racing against time to save an immaculate chunk of Northern California wilderness.

By Marty Patail November 16, 2015

This is Blue Creek.

Flowing through the heart of California's redwoods about 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Blue Creek is a tributary of the Klamath River. It's a stunningly pristine area of impossibly blue waters and deep green forest that is a linchpin of the region's ecosystem. The cold waters of Blue Creek cool down an increasingly warm Klamath River, allowing salmon and Steelhead trout to continue to thrive there.

Losing Blue Creek would threaten the entire ecosystem of the Klamath River.

"If something were to happen to Blue Creek, the whole system would collapse," says Danny Palmerlee of environmental non-profit Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC). "You'd lose all the salmon, all the steelhead. They're a keystone species and it's so important to that whole ecosystem."

Western Rivers Conservancy, which is headquartered in Portland, has been working to create a sanctuary at Blue Creek since 2008. So far, the nonprofit has cobbled together millions of dollars to purchase over 47,000 acres of the land in partnership with the Yurok Tribe. 

"We're buying the entire lower watershed of Blue Creek. It's massive. The upper watershed is already protected in the Siskiyou Wilderness," says Palmerlee. "We've used all kinds of funding sources to get this project where it is."

With 10,000 acres left to purchase—much of it directly adjacent to the river itself—the WRC is trying a new approach: going straight to individual donors.

To do so, WRC partnered with Portland digital creative agency Instrument to design a crowdfunding campaign that would convey the beauty and fragility of the area. After visiting the area person, Instrument's team of photographers and filmmakers produce this stunning video collage of the area that WRC hope will inspire viewers to action. 

"We decided crowdfunding would be a way to raise a chunk of that," says Palmerlee. "But we needed some way to show people how amazing this was in order for that to be successful. We talked to eight agencies in town and it almost love at first sight when we met with Instrument because of the enthusiasm."

As far as Instrument was concerned, the project was a no-brainer.

"Instrument doesn't to work a lot with nonprofits. A lot of people here were excited about it," says the firm's Paul Welch. "It's a wild place. It feels so far removed. The only people out there is the tribe."

Adds Welch, "The color of the water is so important. It's so unusual to be on a river and see water the color of the Caribean, those bright cerulean colors, and blues, greens, yellows. That's something we wanted to capture."

Asked whether crowdfunding could be the future of conservation, Palmerlee recognizes that the group's $5 million ask is ambitious.

"It's very much a roll of the dice," says Palmerlee. "But it's so important. Blue Creek's gotta be saved."

To donate to the campaign, visit savebluecreek.com.

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