By Michele Byers
What’s more fun than standing in a chilly downpour at night in March, filming volunteers as they help salamanders cross Shades of Death Road?
For Jared Flesher, not much!
An independent documentary filmmaker and New Jersey native, Jared revels in being outdoors and telling stories about nature, animals’ struggles for survival and human efforts to help.
And he doesn’t mind getting soaked to document the lengths volunteers go to make sure salamanders cross safely to their spring breeding grounds in vernal ponds.
“It was a ton of work, but I love going out on a rainy night for something like that,” he said.
The salamander footage is part of the first episode of “The Creature Show,” Jared’s new video series, which debuted July 15 at www.creatureshow.com.
“The Creature Show” spotlights animals in New Jersey that are designated as threatened or endangered species. Creatures like bats, snakes of the Pine Barrens, bobcats, the Red Knot sandpiper and turtles are a few of his subjects.
The “villains of global extinction” — habitat destruction, climate change, invasive species and wildlife disease — will be explored on the series.
The heroes are the scientists and ordinary citizens who devote themselves to protecting biodiversity.
“It’s about the biologists and conservationists, the people who are trying to keep these creatures from going extinct,” he explained.
A few weeks ago, Jared filmed biologists in Wharton State Forest in the Pine Barrens and Sparta Mountain in the Highlands as they put out fine “mist nets” at night to capture bats so the creatures could be evaluated and tagged. Bat populations throughout New Jersey have plummeted as a result of White Nose Syndrome, a disease that causes lesions and scarring on delicate wing membranes.
To everyone’s delight, a healthy long-eared bat — an endangered species — flew into the net at each location.
“The two long-eared bats looked really healthy, which is a promising sign in a situation that overall is pretty dire,” Jared said.
The biologists, he added, “were joyful. That kind of passion really comes through.”
Jared got the idea for “The Creature Show” last fall after finishing “Field Biologist,” a full-length documentary on New Jersey resident Tyler Christensen’s research on neo-tropical migratory birds in Costa Rica.
“Two things I like to do is spent time in nature and tell stories,” he said. “What could be better than running around in the woods of New Jersey trying to tell stories of conservation?”
New Jersey is the perfect place for such a series, Jared believes, because of the Garden State’s geographic diversity.
“All of the drivers of global extinction are represented in New Jersey on a small scale as a microcosm,” he said.
Who will watch “The Creature Show?”
“I hope anyone anywhere who is interested in conservation, biodiversity or just a good nature film will be interested,” he said.
The show is offered for free on the Internet so he’s also hoping teachers will use “The Creature Show” in their classrooms.
Jared raised $10,000 for the first “Creature Show” episode through an online Kickstarter campaign. But he knows he can’t finance the entire series that way. He has partnered with New Jersey Conservation Foundation to help him apply for nonprofit grants and individual gifts.
To watch the salamander episode, go to www.creatureshow.com. While you’re there, check out the fascinating blog on the making of the show.
Michele Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. For more information, contact her at email@example.com or visit NJCF’s website at www.njconservation.org.
By Michele Byers