You’ve probably seen the recent headlines about the careless behavior of photographers and “influencers” trampling poppy fields in southern California. This is just the latest example of a rising worldwide trend of careless outdoor behavior from people who seem only concerned about getting their shot, and either don’t understand or don’t care about the damage they may be causing in the environment or the negative examples they are spreading to their followers. Here in Colorado, I’ve witnessed people flying drones in wilderness areas (illegal), pitching their tents right on top of wildflowers meadows, building fire rings on open tundra grass next to lakes above treeline, and trampling lakeside vegetation.
In this Instagram era it’s becoming more and more difficult to deny that our photography might actually bring harm to the special natural places that we are intending to celebrate. Whether it’s due to our own careless actions in pursuit of the shot, or publicizing previously quiet and pristine places to the masses, nature photography has unfortunately become a potential nemesis of untrammeled nature rather than an ally of nature as it has traditionally been assumed. I’ve always thought it’s a good thing when my photography inspires people to get outside and enjoy nature, but if even a small portion of those people behave disrespectfully when they’re out there, then it may all be a net loss for the natural lands I wish to preserve.
In an effort to combat this trend, some fellow photographers and I have gotten together during the last year to form an alliance of photographers devoted to a more careful and mindful approach to nature photography which prioritizes the long term well being of nature over the short term desires of photography. The group we created is called the Nature First Photography Alliance. We have drafted a set of 7 principles which we all pledge to follow and promote. As nature photographers it is our responsibility not just to create beautiful images but to act as ambassadors for the lands we photograph. From our positions as active photographers we hope to leverage our networks of friends, followers, and associates to spread the word and hopefully turn this into a popular positive movement that spreads out into the broader culture.
If you are a photographer reading this, I invite you to read more about the movement at www.NatureFirstPhotography.org and to join us as a fellow member on the website. Even if you’re not a photographer I would encourage you to take a look and consider how you too can help to promote a more mindful approach to outdoor recreation.
To celebrate the Mayan apocalypse in proper fashion, last night we went to see Chasing Ice, the new documentary movie about acclaimed photographer James Balog and his monumental efforts to document the receding glaciers of Greenland and Alaska.
Anybody with their head out of the sand can clearly understand that our planet is in turmoil; nevertheless, it is still utterly shocking and sobering to actually SEE through Balog’s cameras and time-lapses how rapidly these enormous glaciers and ice sheets are melting away. We are witnessing a planetary transformation of stunning speed and scale, and it’s difficult to imagine “smooth sailing” for our civilization in the coming decades. How many wake-up-calls do we need as a society to realize that we need to get our sh-t together and move forward with more sustainable energy policies?!
I encourage you to go see this movie as soon as possible. Go SEE how our Earth is transforming while we all go about business as usual. Go SEE for yourself.
“The boreal forest is perhaps our best defense against global warming and climate change. The boreal forest sequesters more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem, and this is absolutely key. So, what we’re doing is we’re taking the most concentrated greenhouse gas sink – twice as much greenhouse gasses are sequestered in the boreal per acre than the tropical rain forests – and what we’re doing is we’re destroying this carbon sink, turning it into a carbon bomb. And we’re replacing that with the largest industrial project in the history of the world which is producing the most high-carbon, greenhouse-gas-emitting oil in the world.” – Garth Lenz, photographer
Dave Showalter is an accomplished nature, wildlife, and conservation photographer. His dedication and relentless efforts shine through on his must-read blog Western Wild, which is full of inspiring photos and informative text. I recently asked Dave a few questions about his photography and his conservation efforts.
You’ve worked on a wide range of conservation fronts, most recently involving the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Can you explain in a nutshell what this project is about? How and why did you become involved with this particular conservation effort?
I was contacted by Barbara Cozzens, NW Director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition about their campaign to protect wild areas along the Absaroka-Beartooth Front. Barb understands the value of advocacy-driven photography and we agreed to develop a project with the support of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP). It’s called a “Tripods In The Mud” (TIM) where the three legs of the tripod signify the partnership of the conservation group, the photographer, and ILCP. The Absaroka Front TIM is a big step for any conservation group, and GYC deserves a lot of credit for thinking outside the box and partnering with ILCP. It speaks to their commitment to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). We planned three photo expeditions in August, September, and November and I covered an enormous amount of territory in Cody Country.
The A-B Front forms the eastern boundary of Yellowstone, is often called “Yellowstone’s Wild Side” and includes a bewildering amount of truly wild country, the Shoshone, Clark’s Fork and Greybull Rivers, and important migratory and winter habitat for a lot of Yellowstone wildlife. The recreation and sportsmen opportunities, and associated revenue are enormous. It’s easily the wildest and most important landscape in the West, and it’s all threatened by oil and gas drilling, fracking. Our job is to illustrate why this land is so important to the GYE, steer energy development to more appropriate “brown field” areas, and get the A-B Front protected by convincing land managers and local politicians that it’s the right thing to do long-term. The timing is critical too, with both the Shoshone National Forest and the BLM drafting their 20-year land management plans right now.
Last spring I wrote a post about the snowpack dust pollution that is becoming so common every year in Colorado. As far as I can tell, it’s getting worse and worse. In the last few weeks, we’ve had a good set of storms coming through, bringing much welcome snow to the mountains. Unfortunately, along with the snow has come wave after wave of dust.
Today I noticed an eerie orangish glow from outside, and looking out the window I saw what could easily be mistaken for wildfire smoke. Brown dust-filled clouds are currently streaming in over the mountains. I have never seen anything like this before. It is utterly disgusting. The photo above was taken around 4pm today; the brown color is the color of the clouds – not sunset, not smoke, just clouds full of dirt.
Yet again we can kiss goodbye any chance of a prolonged spring skiing season, as the dust will surely wreak havoc on the late-season sun-baked snowpack.
Today I hiked and snowboarded down Mt. Sneffels (see the riding photos in the next post). Here’s the classic view looking from the summit into Blue Lakes Basin. Notice all the ugly brown snow?
When it’s windy in the western states, dust blows from the deserts and ends up smothering the mountains. It’s a phenomenon that has probably happened naturally through the ages, but has become much worse in recent decades due in part to large scale grazing which erodes the desert soils. I’ve even heard that some of the dust blows all the way across the Pacific from huge dust storms in China!
In any case, the dust has a terrible effect not only on the snowpack but on the entire watershed. The dark dust absorbs much more solar radiation than pure white snow, causing a rapid meltdown of the snowpack. In heavy snow years like this year, it could cause flooding problems. In light snow years, it can cause premature meltdown, leading to drought conditions during the summer.
I am pleased that the Trust for Public Land recently published a magazine article about Wilson Peak featuring one of my photos of this iconic mountain near Telluride. I am even more pleased that access to Wilson Peak has been secured by the Trust for Public Land after years of being blocked by a Texan developer.
Wilson Peak is one of Colorado’s most beautiful and most recognized peaks, and in 2007 a Texan real estate developer who owned some mining claims below the mountain closed access to the standard hiking route (all other routes involve much more dangerous mountaineering). After negotiations with the National Forest Service made no progress, The Trust for Public Land stepped in and was able to purchase critical portions of the property in order to reopen and protect public access.