In the middle of North America exists a beautiful and mysterious land, left untouched for millions of years by massive continental glaciers of the last Ice Age. This is the Driftless—a rugged landscape home to tremendous biodiversity, fascinating geology, and features unique in the world.

If you grew up here, you may know this is a very special place. But as nice as it is, most people don’t realize how rare and fragile the Driftless is: it contains the world’s oldest river, deep caves with petroglyphs, hidden waterfalls, fossils from ancient seas, almost the entire world’s collection of ancient effigy mounds, and a migratory bird corridor of global importance. And why did the glaciers miss this region?

If people are unaware of what an amazing place this is, they may never connect with and enjoy it, and it could be lost forever.

Take a breathtaking flight over ancient, scenic blufflands, dive into cold-water trout streams, rappel down precipitous and rugged rock faces, venture deep into ancient caves, explore mysterious underground rivers, and enjoy the magnificence of the massive Mississippi River ecosystem. It’s all waiting for you in Decoding the Driftless!

Our Team

Our Emmy Award-winning filmmakers, Rob Nelson of Untamed Science, Inc. and George Howe and Tim Jacobson of Sustainable Driftless, Inc. have teamed up again, this time with the addition of Swedish filmmaker Jonas Stenstrom to make the film a reality.

World-renowned and six-time Emmy winning wildlife cinematographer Neil Rettig has joined our creative team, too.

Leading experts and scientists within the Driftless Region will reveal their passion and discoveries that shed new light on how this region formed and evolved. They also ponder some still-unanswered mysteries that have puzzled researchers for decades. These scientists also reveal major threats to the rare species that live here.

We’ll explore archeology, paleontology, geology, ecology, and biology with scientists, as well as with spelunkers and old sages who know tantalizing things found in no textbook. Trekking across the Driftless Area in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois and employing advanced remote sensing, we are not only exploring mysteries but revealing new forces that threaten the endangered Ice-Age throwbacks and rare ecosystems hidden here.

Our Mission & Impact

Sustainable Driftless, Inc. is dedicated to inspiring resource conservation, vibrant communities, and sustainable growth in the Driftless Region.

Our creative team will take you on a journey you’ll never forget!  Join us as we explore the awe-inspiring Driftless and reveal her many secrets.  Not only will you learn amazing things about where you live, but you’ll have a blast doing it!

You see, we’ve learned that once people know how special this place is, they will want to experience it, share it, and conserve it.

We also want to make sure this place is taken care of for our kids to enjoy as we have.  We want to decode the Driftless for you, your family, your friends, and future generations.

Much More than Making a Film

Sustainable Driftless is going to do much more than make a feature-length film, as awesome a project as that is. We’ll be producing dozens of short videos about all sorts of cool stuff in the Driftless, and we’ll be publishing articles and developing educational materials for teachers and professors to use.

See, our team is more than a film crew. Sustainable Driftless, Inc., is a nonprofit organization that seeks to connect people throughout the Driftless and strengthen them and their communities by creating a comprehensive set of communication channels that highlight and celebrate all that is unique, beautiful, and smart in the region.

Fundamentally, it’s about love of this amazing place. Second, it’s the principle of “united we stand.” Our region of the country faces some challenges, but we also have brilliant and dedicated people who are bringing about positive change, and we have more brainpower available than we sometimes realize. We want to highlight and celebrate those good things. Third, people are yearning for more. The bottom line is that we seek to inspire resource conservation, vibrant and healthy communities, and sustainable economic growth.

Public awareness of Driftless natural resources is foundational to everything. We must reach people where they live via their preferred learning styles. Digital media is king now. We seek to inspire people to get out and connect with nature and be active, which results in health benefits and enhanced quality of life.

From the experiences of the Sustainable Driftless team in a variety of science, education and conservation roles, it’s become apparent to us that one of the best ways to protect our limited and precious resources is to connect people to our beautiful landscape through fun and inspiring experiences, and to help people—especially kids—develop a stronger sense of place and deeper regional pride.

We also want to help people see how they can make a good living from the land and also be excellent stewards of it. Conservation and economic wellbeing are not opposing forces; they are complementary.

Leadership in prudent use of resources goes all the way back to prehistory in the Driftless Region, starting with Native Americans who lived here thousands of years ago. The story continues with the principles articulated by Aldo Leopold in the early 1900s and leads to the pioneering “Envision” sustainability program of Gundersen Health System, the building of the nation’s largest organic food cooperative here (Organic Valley), the stream and habitat restoration work of Trout Unlimited’s Driftless Area Restoration Effort (TUDARE), the return of peregrine falcons through the work of the Raptor Resource Project (and their Decorah Eagle Cam), and so many other farsighted organizations and businesses today. We need to tell that story.

Sustainable Driftless is also here to amplify the good work of our partners, promote tourism, encourage the attraction and retention of talent and businesses to the region, and help families and communities thrive here. We need to think and act for the long term, ensuring that future generations will have an equal or better chance at a good, healthy and prosperous life through the wise use of our limited resources. This region remains in the top tier of beautiful, special places in the world to live in and visit. We believe the region can and should grow sustainably, intelligently, and beautifully.

If there’s one takeaway about the mission and work of Sustainable Driftless, it’s that we want the Driftless Region to reach her amazing potential by sharing stories of her greatness and beauty with the world.

Gearing Up

We have embarked upon a year of filming across the Driftless after several years of planning and analysis. We have completed substantial research, and we’ve begun field exploration and interviews. We’ve also mapped out an intriguing storyline and begun filming. Now we’re asking for your help to fund completion of the filming. We need your help to pay for as yet unfunded production costs so we can keep on track and complete the film in 2017 and begin getting it in front of regional and national audiences on TV, in film festivals, and in schools and universities.

We’ve already spent a lot of time crafting the message. In fact, we won an Emmy Award for our initial efforts. That was a fantastic honor, so we want to use that momentum to create something powerful that will change lives and last lifetimes.

What We Need & What You Get

So here’s how you can help–it’s easy.  We need to raise more funds to make a truly inspiring documentary film.

Our non-profit Sustainable Driftless is working hard to raise funds. We’ve already raised over $85,000 from grants, sponsors, and crowdfunding!  But we need much more to make a great feature-length film ready for TV broadcast–more like $200,000 total. Your tax deductible donation is critical, so please give what you can.

Your donation is tax-deductible

By supporting this film through Sustainable Driftless, Inc., your donation is tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Sustainable Driftless is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

What if we exceed our funding goal?

Our funding request is not even close to our entire film production budget, but we’ve been busy raising funds from other sources, too. If we succeed in securing a significant additional funding, that will free up tons of time of our film producers to focus less on seeking funds from other sponsors and focus more on exploring the best of the Driftless landscape with our cameras through a wider range of seasons and editing to make the best possible film. We will use the additional funding to further enhance the production of the film, as well as to advance the promotion and distribution campaign to place the film in front of millions of viewers, including getting it into many more schools, universities, and public libraries in the Driftless. Part of that funding could be used to organize additional screenings.

Risks & Challenges

When we made our first (pilot) film about the Driftless starting five years ago, naysayers said we couldn’t do it. They suggested that we wouldn’t raise enough money and that the film would never get completed. Some people doubted that our first documentary would have much impact.

But as people who had spent our lives exploring and nurturing the beautiful and fragile Driftless Region landscape and seeing so many of its hidden gems, we knew that there was a compelling and inspiring story to tell through film. And we believed that people of the Driftless, and even people from around the world who care about our amazing planet, would pull together and give life and expression to this dream.

And they did!

As a result, we succeeded in producing an Emmy Award-winning short film that has changed the lives of countless numbers of people. When we lead film screenings and nature hikes in the Driftless, we hear the first-hand accounts of people positively transformed. Elementary and high school students have shown us how they have developed renewed interest in science and nature. College students have changed their majors and career paths. Teachers and professors use our film with every class they teach, and they see kids inspired and engaged. Local government officials have taken concrete steps to conserve the landscape that gives people of the Driftless such a high quality of life. And the best part is that all these people experience joy and gratitude for one of the most amazing places on earth!

Now we have the chance to tell this story more completely through an ultra-high-def feature-length film. Every aspect of our new film will be more stunningly beautiful, more exciting, with more amazing mysteries revealed to you. We as filmmakers are blown away by the new discoveries we’ve made out in the field, and you will be, too.

But we earnestly need your help. You have the power to be a partner with us in this filmmaking adventure, and you will be able to savor the results when our film is complete, knowing that you were a key part of it all.

Please join us in exploring and saving the Driftless!

Thank you so much for your support of this film to help save the threatened species and ecosystems of the Driftless. We’ll see you at a future screening!

-Rob Nelson, Jonas Stenstrom, Tim Jacobson, George Howe – Co-Producers

Donate Today!

Please support the educational work of Sustainable Driftless, Inc. with a donation through the secure PayPal button below. Sustainable Driftless, Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit organization, and your donation will be tax deductible to the full extent of the law.

Thank you!