education, photography, random thought, writing

Photographic Trophy Hunting

“For me, it’s not enough to leave it up to authorities and governments. I believe in personal responsibility, first and foremost.”

A thought occurred to me recently as I was contemplating how to make my workshops better for my clients… There are a lot of photo enthusiasts and pros out there nowadays that are essentially “trophy hunters”.

You might be wondering, what is a photographic trophy hunter? It’s an individual who sees an image on social media or the internet, and travels to that location to come away with their own social media “trophy” shot.

Now, don’t take that the wrong way. Obviously, actual trophy hunting is not a very well-liked practice by the public these days. I’m not equating the general idea that many folks looking for the trophy shot are somehow shallow or calloused. It’s much more nuanced than this.

What I mean to say, is that even with actual hunting, there are positives and negatives to this trophy-type approach. First positive, hunters are one of the most conservation minded groups out there. They bring in massive amounts of cash that goes directly toward furthering conservation efforts all over the world. In fact, many species have been saved by the efforts and financial support driven by hunters. But trophy hunting clearly also has it’s draw backs.

For one, it feeds a desire to destroy, with little regard for the “why”. Notice, I didn’t say with no regard. In subsistence hunting, there is a clear why. Sustenance. Food. Clothing. Tools. Etc. There is so much that can be done with a deer, elk, moose, or other game species. Now, there are other reasons of course for hunting; population control, strengthening of the species, human rites of passage, etc., that reach symbiosis when coupled with utilizing the entire animal. Mismanagement (at all levels) and illegal poaching are the biggest concerns.

In the realm of photography, the same is true. The dollars brought in to local tourism are undeniable and absolutely necessary. Also, the awareness created through the sharing of these beautiful places, in theory, causes a broader audience to care enough to support protecting these special locations. However, the increased interest leading to the degradation of many of these incredible locations seems unstoppable, simply due to the sheer numbers of trophy seekers. That’s not even to mention the uneducated, or simply those who don’t care beyond their own desires who end up destroying places.

I see it first hand everywhere we go these days. I’d like to think it’s just a matter of educating people into proper outdoor etiquette, but I’m increasingly afraid that there are many folks out there who just don’t think beyond themselves, in this Instagraming culture we’ve created. And what that breeds is two things; closures of public places (which I despise) or destruction for no good reason (which I despise even more).

In each of my workshops, there are undoubtedly trophy locations that all of my clients desire to see and photograph. It is understandable. There are many great reasons why these places have become legendary. However, as a tour/ workshop leader, I do feel a responsibility to educate and minimize our impact. For me, it’s not enough to leave it up to authorities and governments. I believe in personal responsibility, first and foremost.

What this has caused me to begin to do in recent years is to seek out the “off-the-beaten-path” locations. The places I used to frequent, for instance Snake River Overlook (as pictured below), I rarely visit anymore. I have opted away from the easy locations, for the creatively challenging. And though it is markedly less fruitful at times, it is most rewarding to my soul and sense of adventure. And at the very least, it takes one person away from the crowds at these trophy locations.

There is a potentially harmful issue though that arises from this approach as well… at least with the “trophy locations” they are already well known and we as a society can mitigate the risk to the environment at these places more easily. But if we introduce more “off-the-beaten-path” spots to more and more people, they become less “off-the-beaten-path.” In an effort to self regulate, I have incorporated non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s) into my workshops, so folks legally cannot share the locations. I know it seems heavy-handed, but I’m adamant about keeping some places sacred.

Over the years, I have changed my tune on the whole sharing locations issue. And I think we all have continually evaluate, re-evaluate, and re-re-evaluate our long held beliefs on how things are and how they should be. We have a drastically changing society and landscape out there, due to technology and social media. Some of it good, and some of it catastrophically bad.

But to me, just like with nearly any issue, it all comes back to the individual. To you, and to me. Personal responsibility.

If we want things to change for the better, we have to live it for ourselves, and educate others with truth and love. Photographic trophy hunting is an important issue we need to tackle head-on, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg for a society increasingly less responsible for our own actions, and more dependent on government or authorities to do the jobs we all should be doing. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have official regulatory practices and entities, it just means that for these regulations to work (and not shut the public out completely), we have to take responsibility for ourselves first.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to know what you think about this issue. Have you seen the affects on our public lands, or special places that you love? Comment below and let’s keep the conversation going!

— Andrew


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random thought, wildlife

Delisting Grizzlies | Ensuring A Species’ Survival

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is intended to lead to recovery and delisting, so long as adequate plans exist to assure recovery continues.

The ESA requires that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepare a recovery plan for species that are listed as threatened or endangered. For many years now, all of the recovery criteria established for Yellowstone grizzlies have been met or exceeded.”

— The National Wildlife Federation

Let me first state a fact: I am not a hunter. Nor do I have any desire to ever hunt bears, for any reason. I love bears more than any other creature on this planet… second only to dogs and (possibly) humans. I deeply care about their survival. And as a consequence, I have thought much about and researched extensively the best paths to ensuring their survival in the lower 48.

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But let me be clear; I am not an environmentalist. I am a conservationist. The former, I believe, is responsible for gross mismanagement of our wild places for far too long and leads to a mentality of “playing God” in places like Yellowstone.

Even though I personally do not hunt, I respect those that do. Especially and specifically when they responsibly use the whole animal for meat, clothing, etc. But there are a few other purposes that hunting serves, that many of us city-folk and academic types forget; non-human species are safer when they maintain a healthy fear of humans, and we humans, as the apex of all apex predators, are tasked with managing and keeping animal populations healthy. And sometimes that includes hunting for culling purposes.

According to Nick Gevock, an opinion columnist for High Country News, “It is true that such management might well include hunting… look at the remarkable track record of species that are currently hunted: Nearly every species of wildlife that hunters value has thrived in our country, and with sound scientific management, grizzlies can do the same, and even grow in both numbers and range. It’s difficult for many non-hunters to understand, but it’s a solution that works in Alaska with brown bears and can work in the Lower 48 as well.” He goes on to cite a study conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, “In fact, a study of four brown bear populations in Alaska — two populations in national parks that were not hunted and two adjoining populations that are — found that the hunted bears had larger litter sizes and better cub survival.”

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I find trophy hunting wasteful. On a personal level, I do not understand the appeal. But let’s look at the facts:

1. Hunters are typically some of the best conservationists on the planet.The US Fish & Wildlife Services states “The sale of hunting licenses, tags, and stamps is the primary source of funding for most state wildlife conservation efforts.” It goes on to say, “By respecting seasons and limits, purchasing all required licenses, and paying federal excise taxes on hunting equipment and ammunition, individual hunters make a big contribution towards ensuring the future of many species of wildlife and habitat for the future. By paying the Federal excise tax on hunting equipment, hunters are contributing hundreds of millions of dollars for conservation programs that benefit many wildlife species, both hunted and non- hunted. Each year, nearly $200 million in hunters’ federal excise taxes are distributed to State agencies to support wildlife management programs, the purchase of lands open to hunters, and hunter education and safety classes.” But more than just their tax dollars speaking loudly, hunters are also members of “local hunting clubs and national conservation organizations work to protect the future of wildlife by setting aside thousands of acres of habitat and speaking up for conservation in our national and state capitals.”

2. Hunting is very big business. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife “Hunting is much more than a traditional American pastime. It creates more than 700,000 jobs nationwide. New studies now show that annual spending by America’s 14 million hunters amounts to $22.1 billion. By comparison, and if hypothetically ranked as a ‘corporation,’ that revenue figure would put hunting in thirty-fifth place on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest businesses, right between J.C. Penney and United Parcel Service.” This pumps much needed resources directly into local economies and important conservation/ research efforts. So whether you agree with hunting or not, it is a vitally important part of the conservation economy.

3. Humans are an important species within the world ecosystems. Environmentalism paints the picture that humans are the main problem with the environment, which in some respects may hold some truth. However, the movement is largely based on the mediocracy principle, essentially stating that humans are mediocre and no more special, exceptional, or superior to any other species. The movement has many well-meaning individuals who truly care about the natural world, but unfortunately this whole premise is flawed. Clearly humans are the dominant species, and I could argue are quite exceptional, special, and superior. This does not mean we are the “center of the universe” or the only species that matters, or that we should destroy the planet or leave other species decimated. It is not an either/ or. Therein lies the biggest fallacy. To many environmentalists, the choice is either to be on the side that is hell bent on destruction, or to consider ourselves no different from a dung beetle and therefore refuse logic and common sense policies. There is middle ground. It is called stewardship and conservation.

4. The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem includes a massive swath of land (nearly 6 million acres) that is much more than just Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Ranchers and others’ livelihoods depend on the bear’s fear of human conflict. They no longer fear people. A study in the 1990’s by Jon Swenson, Department of Biology and Nature Conservation at The Agricultural University of Norway (to read the full study, click here) observes in general that bears are more likely to avoid humans in areas where they are hunted than where they are fully protected. What makes things complicated is the availability of food when humans are present. Food storage and proper disposal is still a major issue in bear areas, regardless of hunting. A major rebuttal to the argument that hunting creates more fear in bears of humans is that there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. However, there is quite a lot of observational evidence dating all the way back to the 16th century in Eurasia to support the assertion, and so far, none to suggest that bears would somehow fear humans less or the same from if hunted. The responsibility is on us to be realistic, finding a way to coexist with less human-bear conflict which in the long run will help protect the species.

5. After delisting, grizzly bears will remain protected in the 3 National Parks they call home, and under special regulations in the surrounding states’ National Forests and designated Wilderness Areas. Hunting seasons and quotas will be limited and determined by biologists and conservationists projections, updated yearly to reflect proper wildlife management, just as they do with elk, deer, moose, black bear, big horn sheep, etc.

Anyone who spends much time in grizzly country, especially hunters, know that an unfortunately large segment of these bears have grown to associate humans with easy food. When an elk hunter fires his rifle in grizzly country, he/ she knows that it is only a matter of time before a bear will show up. This is potentially the exact opposite of what we might have after a few generations of bears that experience being the prey of (now) predator humans. They will try to get as far away from gunshots as possible. See the aforementioned Swenson Study.

This very simple fact could save dozens of bears lives every year that otherwise would get into conflicts with humans because they lack any fear of us. And we all know that the bear loses when it gets into human conflict. Protocol is usually to relocate the “problem” bear first, or to dispatch (kill) it. The fact is, the government killed 31 grizzly bears in 2015, for various reasons, mostly due to human-bear conflict. Could these numbers be lower (or at least the same) with the introduction of a very limited-tag trophy hunt scenario?

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According to Chris Servheen, Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), “the bears have met every criteria set in a recovery plan to have them removed from the Endangered Species List, or ‘delisted.'” If delisted, grizzlies would no longer be protected under the stricter Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations, and would be managed by the six surrounding National Forests and to the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The populations inside Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks would still be highly protected and managed by the National Park Service. If you would like to read the entire ESA, it is available as a pdf here.

Defenders of Wildlife, an organization who “is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities,” states, “Today, there are an estimated 1,800 grizzly bears remaining in five populations in the lower 48 states. Most of these bears are located in the Northern Continental Divide Population (including Glacier National Park) and the Yellowstone Population.” That includes the conservative estimate of 700+ in the Greater Yellowstone area.

Many conservation biologists argue against delisting, stating that it isn’t enough to protect grizzly bears if their habitat isn’t protected as well. Servheen counters that “the Service looks at more than raw numbers for delisting, including the present or threatened destruction or curtailment of bear habitat or range; overuse of habitat for commercial, recreational, scientific or educational purposes; disease or predation; the lack or inadequacy of regulations; and other natural or manmade factors affecting the population’s continued existence.”

“The key to success is adaptive management,” said Servheen. “As conditions and the needs of the bears change over time, management can change to address those needs,” he said. “I’m optimistic that the bears will be around for hundreds of years. All three state plans are good,” Servheen said, “and don’t have the political problems that have afflicted the ESA delisting plan for wolves.”

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So what does all of this mean for these magnificent bears? Well, it means great news; grizzly bears in the lower 48 have made a remarkable recovery, thanks to the Endangered Species Act. It is a “huge conservation success story“, But it doesn’t mean they are out of the proverbial “woods.”

The states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming have already stepped up to create comprehensive plans to manage the grizzly bear populations and to protect them from a return to the ‘threatened’ status. What this all comes down to is ensuring that bears have adequate and sufficient habitat within which to roam and avoid dangerous human contact.

I simply want to start a dialogue here that is somewhere in between the two extremes. Anyone can say what they want about me, but my main concern is the great bear’s long term survival, and to me, that means less human-bear conflict.

From where I stand, I see two main groups that are on polar opposite sides, unwilling to meet somewhere in the middle to find a balance between what is right and good for bears, and what is reasonable and fair for humans. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to ensure the survival (and thriving) of this magnificent creature, all the while, managing it’s territory and population to ensure the safety and livelihood of the people who live within the massive boundaries of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

I readily admit that I do not have all the answers. Neither do you or anyone else, but I invite you to share your thoughts and feelings here, in hopes that we can come to understand each other and work toward a common goal: protecting a true symbol of the wild, and maintaining a healthy grizzly bear population, for generations to come.

— Andrew


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photography, random thought, travel

To Share or Not To Share

The debate rages on.

You might ask, “exactly which debate?”

The subject of sharing is quite broad.

Well, let me explain…

And don’t be surprised if it opens some related subjects on which I too have opinions, and will probably write about later.

A few months ago I was scouting a location to which I was about to travel, like I always do. As a photographer, I spend many hours researching locations before I go, trying to find the best, most beautiful and pristine spots to capture.

So I came across a blog post that mentioned a beautiful waterfall.  And it recognized the fact that it is a little tough to get to and not very well known.  This is the holy grail for photographers. We are constantly searching for the “gardens of eden” that exist out there. Rarely seen. Even more rarely photographed, or at least photographed well. We want to have images and experiences that few others have.

First, let me put something out there.  And I think this provides a lot of confusion for some people. I am a conservationist, not an environmentalist. I line up more closely with Gifford Pinchot than John Muir, though I respect and admire Muir to the hilt. Muir is the heart, and Pinchot is the head.

And I believe wholeheartedly that the responsible use and enjoyment of our natural resources is necessary for nature’s healthy balance and an inherent right of humanity. The environmental movement has grown more radical (as movements led by pure emotion will) over the years, to include such theories as “the only way to preserve nature is to close it off to humans” and “natural resources are too fragile for mass human consumption” and “human beings are no more important than any plant or animal.” Somehow forgetting that human beings too are a part of nature, and in fact, the pinnacle of nature (as we know it), and therefore tasked with stewardship of the rest of the known, natural world. These facts are not inherently good or bad, just facts. It is what we chose to do with such knowledge that is so important.

The earth and its resources belong of right to its people.

Gifford Pinchot

So I believe we, as human beings (the only creatures that we know of with the capabilities of whole earth stewardship) are tasked with conserving the resources and beauty of the natural world for the sake of ourselves and generations to come. It’s pretty simple. And yes, I pump gasoline, use paper products, and eat meat. And no, I do not feel guilty for any of that. Though I do see the need to innovate in these areas and find more long-term sustainable alternatives.

Conservation means the wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of men.

Gifford Pinchot

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So back to the sharing. I decided to go explore this waterfall with the excitement and wonder I feel anytime I get to see a beautiful location.

It was truly awesome.

It made me feel small and thankful all at the same time. I was enriched for having seen and experienced this place.

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And I wanted to share that with everyone.

Enter the debate.

Many of my kind (photographers, adventurers, explorers) are split on whether it is a good idea to share these lesser known, special places with the rest of the world, except by word of mouth.  And I get it.  I really do. I’m conflicted a bit by it in my heart.

But I want to examine the motivations first behind “to share or not to share” before I make my final decision on what’s right.

Why would I want to share:

+ The good: A genuine desire for others to enjoy the experience.

+ The bad, and the ugly: Selfish ambition and the desire to appear cool, or to be the “first” at something.

Why would I not want to share:

+ The good: A genuine desire to preserve the place.

+ The bad, and the ugly: Selfish ambition to keep it to myself, and to be “in the know” about something very few others have seen.

So both could very easily involve genuine, good desires, and also very selfish, ugly ambitions. Interesting. Well, since I can only know my own intentions, and it is futile to judge the heart and thoughts of another, I think it’s best to examine the eventual outcome of both scenarios.

What happens if I (we) chose not to share? Well, regardless of if I tell you (or anyone else) that I have a unicorn living in my backyard, eventually, people will find out. Whether the yard guy stumbles upon it, or the electricity meter reader, or my neighbor sees it, or a helicopter overhead catches the glint and shine from it’s iridescent rainbow horn, it will eventually become known to others. That is just a fact. Now, it may remain only known to a few for a longer while (if no one else shares), thereby preserving it perhaps a little longer. But the fact remains that eventually, it will become known to a wide enough audience that it may be in danger. So for that time of preservation, only a select few would be able to study it, enjoy it’s beauty, and even have the opportunity to learn something from the unicorn.

Okay, then what happens if I (we) chose to share? Can you imagine?? Immediately, upon finding a unicorn in my backyard, I share on Facebook and Twitter, and even a photo of it on Instagram that I found the earth’s only unicorn!! The world is in a frenzy for a week… news copters flying over my backyard, masses of people on foot peering over my fence, my street completely shut down with hoards of cars, anti-unicorn hate groups gain momentum online and plan attacks on my yard, etc. All of this lasts for a few days.  I have to keep a close eye on my backyard and prized unicorn to ensure that no one try’s to deface it, steal it, or worse, kill it. But before the frenzy even dies down, others start to come out and reveal that they too have unicorns living in their backyard, and it’s not really such a frenzy any more. In fact, a majority of people (except of course for the crazy anti-unicorners) would grow to revere, respect, and possibly even cherish the unicorns we have.  Maybe learn something from them, enjoy their beauty, and even teach their children about them.

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God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.
John Muir

To me, it makes more since to share… to educate and inspire others with the beautiful places we have on this amazing earth. The fact is, these places are not unicorns. And a lot of people aren’t even interested to put their screens down long enough to go hike a few miles to see a waterfall. If I have the opportunity to inspire someone with a photograph to become one of us, those that revel in nature’s beauty and wonder and seek to responsibly enjoy and preserve it, then I think that is a wonderful privilege. Even a responsibility.

I cannot control the anti-unicorners out there. Neither can you. Neither can the government. There will always be those out there that have respect for nothing. That will seek to destroy the beauty. But we cannot try to hide all of the beauty and wonder of our world because of these few fools. If we do, more people become uneducated fools, and run the risk of hating the world’s precious “unicorns”. Even John Muir knew this…

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

John Muir

 

— andrew


 
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