Social Consciousness: Giving back to our environment

The Teton Photography Group is privileged to have its home in Jackson and the beautiful greater Yellowstone ecosystem (GYE.) We have some of the most beautiful public lands and diverse flora and fauna in the lower 48 states. We, as photographers, gain from our environment every day that we visit, shoot, or show our photographs.  What cost do we pay for the privilege of living and photographing in our public lands? Actually, very little or no cost above that of any transient visitor to our area….

If we enjoy our public lands and the ecosystem that is supported and relatively protected at very little or no cost, how can we give back to our environment?

Most people living and visiting our area are aware that we should always practice low-impact, non-consumptive use of the resources – “take only photographs; leave only (very few) footprints.”  That is a common sense, no nonsense approach to protecting our environment but, is it enough for the privilege of living here every day? I don’t think so and I think we, as hosts to the world, have a greater responsibility to our environment. I think we can be leaders and role models for others, the three million visitors who are in awe of our home lands each year. How can we lead and model for our guests?

First, I think we should hold ourselves to a higher standard in support of the GYE. We should be more careful about our activities and our impact on the wildlife and their habitat. We are visitors in the habitat of our diverse fauna and need to respect it assiduously.  

Second, we who enjoy the area daily and proudly drive our too-too (22 – Teton County) vehicles should be stewards of the land and role models for other, more transient, visitors. By holding ourselves to a higher standard and behaving in an exemplary manner, our guests will see how we value and respect our environment and they, too, will show more respect.

Third, while these are laudable goals, I think we can, should, and have the responsibility to do even more to protect and preserve our ecosystem. I believe that we, the TPG membership, can take a lead role in developing ethical standards for wildlife photography in our area. In early December I had the opportunity of meeting with representatives from the National Forest Service who have concerns about the stresses placed on our wildlife by visitors and photographers getting too close.  While they have the regulatory power to prevent this by closing sensitive areas to the public, they clearly want to maintain nearly unlimited public access to our wildlife as long as the wildlife are respected and their natural behavior is not disrupted. They would like the TPG to take the lead in developing and promoting appropriate ethical standards, and educating the public as we become role models for these ethical standards.

Last week I set up a Liaison Group to work to develop a proposed list of ethical wildlife photography standards to be supported by the Teton Photography Group. We have collected references and ethical behavior models from other organizations and will use these as a backbone for principles that we believe are most appropriate for our environment. We hope to have a draft list before Christmas and have the list compiled and edited for review before the end of 2013. We will partner with representatives from federal, state, regional, and local authorities and agencies to review these ethical principles at a meeting before the end of January 2014.  I will bring the results of this meeting to the TPG membership for review and approval later this winter, with the hope of developing and distributing a document outlining our ethical principles for wildlife photography in the GYE, no later than this spring.  We plan to schedule a special public meeting of the TPG for an open forum discussion of this project and its recommendations this spring.

I hope that this effort will be supported by the Group and we can work together to discuss and distribute these principles to governmental agencies and the public before and during the busy summer tourist season. Working together, it is my belief, will allow the greatest access to our public lands and the greatest protection for our beloved wildlife.

Please let me know your thoughts by posting comments below.

I thank TPG member Chuck Schneebeck for stimulating this discussion with the National Forest Service representatives Dale Deiter, Thomas Matza, and Kerry Murphy. I also thank Barbara Hayton, Mike Cavaroc, Roger Hayden, Mac McMillen, and Karen Perry for serving as members of the TPG Liaison Group.