photography, wildlife

THE GREAT GRIZ AWAKENING

Just around this time of year, grizzly bears start to emerge from their winter hibernation in our little part of Wyoming.
I get so excited in the spring for this ritual of nature. My heart is breaking that I can’t be there yet, but we are hunkering down until the coronavirus outbreak calms down. So for now, I’ll reminisce over a few encounters from the last several years… I hope you enjoy!
Last year, I got to witness sow 793 with her two cubs. The cubs are both getting to the age where they are preparing to leave mama and venture out on their own. But there’s still important play and learning from mom that has to occur.
They follow her everywhere. But frequently break into play fights with each other when they get bored.
This was a large sow with two younger cubs that I found in Yellowstone several years back. She was gorgeous. And the cubs were so playful and curious.
It was a brief experience, as they moved out of sight only shortly after appearing near the road.
Then there is of course my favorite bear encounter of all time. The other many sightings of these incredible creatures are most often with dozens of other people. Usually on main park roads.
But this one, was just me and this young griz.
It was probably his first spring alone, judging by his relative small size.
I was driving down (what used to be) a little known, inner park dirt road one morning, when I spotted him digging in the wildflowers, looking for food. I slowly pulled up in my truck. He glanced over at me, took a sniff, and then got right back to business.
I likely watched him for around 30-45 minutes… just us. Toward the end of this magical experience, he got within 10 feet. Don’t worry, I was in my truck the whole time, and I never moved closer to him. He never really seemed bothered by my presence. 
Just before he moseyed off, he raised his head and allowed me to make a quick portrait.
I loved being able to capture the raw vulnerability of such a feared and powerful creature, out in his element, all by my lonesome. I will never forget any of my bear encounters, that’s for sure, but this one in particular, is one of my absolute most favorite moments of my entire life.
I don’t expect anything like it will ever happen again, but I pray that it will. 
— Andrew
P.S. Im in the initial stages of putting together a brown bear photography workshop in Finland for summer 2021. If you are interested, drop me a note so I can put you on the early notification list. More info here.

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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


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! Help us on our mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside by checking out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 2-4 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE



Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT // 2016 – SOLD OUT
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT (Trip 2) // 2016 – ONLY 2 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LOCAL + PRIVATE WORKSHOP // 2016 – AFFORDABLE RATES FOR ME TO COME TO YOU
BIG BEND // LANDSCAPE + NIGHT SKY // 2017 – MOST POPULAR! 6 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LEARN PHOTO + CAMERA BASICS // DALLAS // 2016 – 20 SPOTS!
 
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
 
See what’s NEW
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
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photography, travel

#findyourpark | A QUICK INTRO TO GLACIER

One of America’s most spectacular parks is without a doubt, Glacier. Now, you may have heard me say that I have been making plans to visit this park every year for nearly 10 years, and every year the plans fall through. Well… it finally happened. And it was worth the wait.

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This post will not be my typical #FindYourPark post, full of info, locations, tips, etc. Since it was my first visit, I had to stumble around a bit, explore, and figure things out for myself. When I have the chance to return, I will be on a mission: to gather all of the most relevant information for all of you to have an epic experience in Glacier National Park!

So for now, please enjoy my thoughts, reflections, and images from my long awaited first visit to Glacier….

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I always do a decent bit of research before I head out to any new park, so Glacier was no exception. So there were a few “must sees” and “must dos” that I knew about, and of course at the top of the list was Going-To-The-Sun-Road.

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It was the first thing we did when we got to the park. Spectacular.

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The next morning, I decided to try my luck at Lake McDonald, another very famous area for landscape shooters.

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After a beautiful sunrise, we decided to check out one of the park’s most popular short hikes, Hidden Lake. It is the shortest hike to get up into the high country and experience the vibrant blue mountain lakes. It’s also a great place to see the park’s most quirky residents up close and personal… mountain goats.

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Unfortunately it was the wrong time of day to get the shot I wanted, but I’m sure it won’t be the last time I hike to Hidden Lake.

On a particularly cloudy day, I decided to take advantage of the soft, even light, and do some creek and waterfall shots. McDonald Creek was the perfect candidate.

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Rolling steadily through hemlock forests, eventually cascading over water-worn rocks, McDonald was never visually disappointing.

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And of course it was back to Lake McDonald to see how afternoon/ evening light would paint this landscape.

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I took a few mornings to explore the far West and Northwest of the park. Definitely needed more time up at Bowman and Kintla.

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Up and over Going-to-the-sun-road a few more times…

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Then, but not soon enough, it was on to the East side of the park.

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St. Mary’s Lake, Two Medicine, and of course, Many Glacier.

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Many Glacier provided the much desired cloud/ peak drama I was really wanting to capture. All of Glacier has this potential, but on my short visit, Many Glacier was the sweet spot.

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So after an inaugural trip like this, I certainly have favorite spots, locations that I know I want to revisit… now with the much needed knowledge that comes from experience. But there were also so many places that I just did’t have time to see/ check out.

It is a vast wilderness. With so many hidden visual treasures lurking around every bend in the road, trail, river.

It’s now a forgone conclusion that I will be back… I hope sooner rather than later.

— Andrew


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! Help us on our mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside by checking out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 2-4 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE



Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT // 2016 – SOLD OUT
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT (Trip 2) // 2016 – ONLY 2 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LOCAL + PRIVATE WORKSHOP // 2016 – AFFORDABLE RATES FOR ME TO COME TO YOU
BIG BEND // LANDSCAPE + NIGHT SKY // 2017 – MOST POPULAR! 6 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LEARN PHOTO + CAMERA BASICS // DALLAS // 2016 – 20 SPOTS!
 
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
 
See what’s NEW
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
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film making, photography, random thought, travel, writing

…last week in wyoming…

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one of my first, and best, friends when i lived in wyoming was kim.  she recently got married and had a gorgeous little girl, kate.  first thing’s first… i had to go see them.

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now on to my animals.  a coyote searches for food in the elk national wildlife refuge near jackson.

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two ocean lake in teton wilderness provided fantastic scenery.

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on the way out of two ocean and pacific creek, one of my favorite views of the tetons materializes quickly.  almost out of nowhere, the jagged peaks come into view with force and drama.

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then, of course, the jackson lake dam provides unimpeded views of this beautiful mountain range, the grand tetons.

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a lone big horn ram wandered, grazed.

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early in the morning, the elk eat dew-covered grasses.

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lamar creek.  the hidden gem of the lamar valley.  always one of my favorite spots to sit in the morning.

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the lamar valley in the summer is a haven for the american bison.  they graze it heavily in massive swarms.

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the lamar valley is also home to many bears.  this pair, one black bear and one cinnamon black were inseparable as i watched them cross miles of open landscape.  i saw this same cinnamon about four years ago in the exact same spot.  glad to see he’s got a lady to keep him company now…

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bull elk are scattered across yellowstone this time of year.  typically alone, they seem to know that the autumn rut and breeding season will be coming in a few short months.

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sulphur stained ponds dot the landscape of yellowstone.

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a lone black bear on the northeast entrance road scavenges in the shadow of the mountains surrounding the montana/ wyoming border, near cooke city.

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not even a mile away from the bear, a fox too looks for an evening snack.

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on the road to lulu pass, just outside city limits, seedlings, clear cuts, mountains, and sky provide the backdrop for cook city, montana.

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early morning, heading back from a night spent at the cooke city dump, the mountains and fog performed a ballet.  mist danced across the tops of trees as the light watched passively from behind the clouds.

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and it only gained dramatic crescendo as i made my way back, further into the lamar valley of yellowstone.

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after a long morning hike up the side of a peak in the lamar, a lone antelope kept his distance.

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a 45 minute exposure at oxbow bend in grand teton national park, well after sundown.

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morning glow over the tetons.  i love waking up to this view!!

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mid-morning at oxbow bend.  light slowly makes it way toward me from behind, painting my canvas.

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jackson lake was glass.  a rare site.

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string lake, near jenny lake, grand teton national park.

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back to my old haunt in sublette county… green river lakes in bridger-teton national forest.

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the lower lake was in tumult, with wild winds from the south rumbling like a freight train through the valley toward the upper green.

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the green river was calm the next morning, though the sky overhead read drama.

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i hiked the highline trail toward the upper lake.  squaretop mountain spectacularly reflected the patches of sun.

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i followed massive grizzly tracks all the way to the upper lake about three miles.  it was not alone.  two smaller sets of tracks alerted me to the fact that a sow with two yearlings could be around any bend.

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on the way into little soda lake, the aspen groves catch a reflection more colorful than reality.

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cactus patches keep me aware of where i place my feet…

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just a few minutes from the front door of my old house in pinedale, soda lake reflects the wind river mountains, creating impressionistic hues that would make any artist salivate.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2009

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