of the finest contemporary nature documentaries I've seen, Counting
Sheep is ironically titled since one can literally count the
remains of the endangered wild Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep. Approximately
100 bighorn were still surviving in 1998; the depletion of their numbers
was hastened by manmade carelessness in the 19th and 20th centuries
(primarily due to the introduction of domestic sheep which carried
diseases that killed off the bighorn). More recently, bighorn numbers
were threatened by an unlikely environmental problem: their natural
predator, the mountain lion, protected by California voters, could
not be shot. A protracted process won the bighorn federal emergency
endangered species status, trumping the rights of the mountain lions
and thus allowing the big cats to be killed in cases where they were
threatening the sheep. In the midst of this situation are biologist
John Wehausen and mountain lion trackers Jeff and Vicki Davis, who've
devoted their lives to finding some sort of balance in which bighorns
and mountain lions can coexist without facing premature and violent
demise. This compelling real-life adventure - filmed over an 11 year
period - is artfully framed by filmmaker Frank Green, whose camera
gracefully captures both the stunning beauty of the Sierra Nevada
peaks and the four-legged residents who dwell at 12,000 feet. An artistic
triumph and a provocative dissection of conservation issues, this
is highly recommended. Editor's Choice. Four out of four stars.”
his beautiful new film, Counting Sheep,
Frank Green patiently takes us into the world of the Sierra Nevada bighorn
sheep and the small band of humans struggling to save them. In a calm
and quiet way this film introduces us to an environmentalist’s
nightmare, asking us how to weigh the life of an endangered sheep against
that of a less endangered, but still rare, predator. The story that
is told is never didactic, and along the way the filmmaker introduces
us to a cast of (human) characters as fascinating as the animals they
“Counting Sheep is an excellent documentary that details the decline of one of North America’s mountain monarchs. This 60-minute DVD would serve as an excellent case study for high school or college courses in wildlife, environmental biology or environmental ethics. The production mixes beautiful footage of scenery with difficult-to-get shots of bighorn sheep with interviews with biologists and environmental advocates. The DVD discusses causes of the decline in bighorn sheep during the 20th century including interactions with domestic livestock, human encroachment and predation. The focus of the Sierra Nevada bighorn recovery program is on control of mountain lions, which were determined to be a primary cause of sheep mortality. Mountain lion control is always controversial, especially in California where hunting and trapping of lions was prohibited by a statewide ballot measure. Counting Sheep explores the extraordinary efforts of biologists and trappers with California Fish & Game to track and monitor lions in sheep habitat and remove individual lions that are preying on sheep. Thus, biology, sociology, ethics and politics converge in an excellent film –– I recommend it.”
Daniel Edge, Ph.D.
“Counting Sheep displays a problem facing all wildlife managers: when you do something that benefits one species, you may be harming, or you may even need to harm, another. To me, this is the most important point made by the film and should be stated as loudly and clearly as possible. If that point can be made, it alone justifies the production.”
Dale Toweill, Ph.D.
“Every species has its own story, but Counting Sheep shows the universal issues involved with conservation. This film could have a good place in the classroom because it shows the various angles of conservation.”
Brett Riddle, Ph.D.
Frank Green has produced a “must see” documentary about the efforts of a small but outstanding group of individuals to save the Sierra bighorn from extinction. Counting Sheep is a stunning conservation story that should become common knowledge because it confirms that there is always hope if there is at least one individual willing to commit their life to a cause. Every student should have the opportunity to see this superb film about people, bighorn and cougars.
H. Barrett, Ph.D.
“Counting Sheep is a film certainly no environmental science teacher in the state of California should be without. It presents the complex problem of trying to save the endangered bighorn sheep while at the same time protecting its predator -- the protected mountain lion. It gives the students a chance to see scientists working in the field with conservationists, wildlife managers, and ranchers. As with all environmental issues, it clearly shows that there are many sides to this thorny problem, giving fair balance to all. After viewing this film it will inspire you to jump into your car and head to the high Sierra after a long school year!”
Rae Ann Simes
“Congratulations! Counting Sheep is a superlative presentation. The film illustrates an excellent use of the controversial Endangered Species Act and it shows how a fundamental policy of North American wildlife conservation operates, namely, the use of science to underpin sound decisions. All successful conservation generates rattling good stories that grip the soul, and I commend the producers of this film to telling such tales so compellingly. It has real suspense and a surprising, unexpected and wonderful ending. One cannot but walk away with hope inflating one’s chest. On the technical side I found no errors and am judging the amount of technical detail as appropriate. It blended well with an essentially human story. And with people like that, Sierra Nevada bighorns have a future!”
Valerius Geist, Ph.D.
“The balanced treatment of the politics gives Counting Sheep special credibility, particularly for these argumentative times. Your film seems more informational and less like propaganda than some recent efforts. As a consequence, I think that students of different political persuasions would be more likely to learn something about both the environmental issues and ecology of bighorn sheep. Besides that, it’s beautiful and a joy to watch.”
Rick Bliss, Ph.D.
Jeffrey M. Black, Ph.D.
Sheep shows undergraduates how difficult
it is to save species. It
E. Thomson, Ph.D.
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