Now I am not a treehugger by the commonly understood definition of the term, but I do strongly care about protecting our natural world. I have a responsibility to protect that which I so cherish and am privileged to share in. I am even more keenly aware of this because I venture offroad and am always dealing with access issues. Although I prefer to hike, I bought my jeep so I could venture even farther to places that would require days or even weeks to hike. I wanted to explore places that few people get to see. I strictly follow Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly principles, and insist that others with me do as well. I want to keep access open for everyone so that others can follow me and see the wonders that I have seen, and I want it to remain in the same (or better) condition for future generations. In order to do that we all need to act responsibly and take good care of this great earth.
So it pained me this morning to read a fellow photographer's blog and see that a group of photographers, including the very well-known Alain Briot, trekked out to the Racetrack in Death Valley after the rain and proceeded to walk onto the playa, leaving behind deep footsteps that will remain for years. Worse yet, said photographer posted incriminating photos of the damaging footprints on her blog and joked about it. There are warning signs posted in several locations reminding people of the long term damage that will occur by walking onto the playa when it is wet, yet this group of photographers either did not take the time to learn about the environment in which they were photographing or chose to ignore the damage in their quest for the perfect shot. "Leave only footprints" doesn't mean leave footprints that will remain for the next ten years or so. That group of photographers has ruined this magical place for everyone who follows, for many years. In addition, they have jeopardized access for everyone, as it wouldn't surprise me if over-zealous California officials decide to place the area off limits to everyone since a few people failed to follow the rules. It wouldn't be the first time something like this has occurred.
My plea to my fellow outdoor photographers is to please, please take the time to learn about the environment in which you will be photographing before trekking out and do your part to minimize damage to our environment. There is just no excuse for doing irreparable damage in your quest for the money shot. Ignorance is not an excuse, and selfishness will not be tolerated. I am saddened and tired of seeing areas shut down to photographers and others because people do not take the necessary care of our great earth.
In addition to not walking on playas when they are wet, here are a few other things photographers and other outdoor adventurers should be aware of when venturing in the southwest:
Cryptobiotic soil crusts - All but invisible to the untrained eye, cryptobiotic soil crusts, comprised mostly of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) but also include lichens, mosses, green algae, microfungi, and bacteria, play a vital role in the desert's health. The filaments formed by the cyanobacteria help control erosion by keeping the soil in place. They also absorb precious rainfall and provide nutrients to the ecosystem. The soil crust is easily damaged by a footprint, and a damaged crust may take up to seven years to return! If you've never seen cryptobiotic soil before, look for lumpy black dirt. When in an area with cryptobiotic soil stay on established trails, and if you must walk through an area with a thick crust please do so single file to minimize damage. Please don't set up camp, drive a vehicle or do anything else that will cause damage to these fragile crusts.
Wildlife - Nothing angers me more than seeing another photographer cause undue stress to wildlife. When I came across a large herd of endangered Peninsular Desert Bighorn Sheep in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, I was careful to set up my tripod far away on the other side of the stream and to use the appropriate telephoto lens. Next thing I know some idiot who didn't have a telephoto lens attempted to sneak right up to the some of the sheep so he could get a better shot, obviously causing some agitation in the herd. And yes, I voiced my opinion to him and chased him off. People, there are less than 600 of these animals left in the world, some estimate the number closer to 300. If you want to photograph wildlife, get used to carrying that big heavy lens and tripod, and leave immediately if the animals start acting stressed. End of story.
Same thing goes for bird photography. Please respect the signs when an area is posted as off limits during nesting season. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a photographer in an off-limits area to get close-up shots of nesting birds, especially in La Jolla. You are giving all of us a bad name! Why do you think that the rules apply to everyone except you?
Rockpiles - Yes, rockpiles. Silly, isn't it? I can't tell you how many times I've seen people dismantle rock piles. Especially if they are accompanied by children, who just can't seem to resist taking the rocks and throwing them. When you find a pile of rocks in the desert, chances are fairly good it is one of the three things; a cairn used to mark a trail (and vitally important to desert hikers), a marker for a mining claim or an Indian artifact. Someone dismantled a rockpile in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park last year, possibly thinking it hid a geocache, possibly not. It turned out to be an Indian artifact and we are still fighting over access issues a year later. Some people say that artifacts should be marked as such; I'm in the camp that would rather see things in their natural environment, not littered with signs. Look, but don't touch.
Tidepools - We have a wealth of amazing tidepools here along the southern California coast, filled with all sorts of neat creatures. One of the best is in Little Corona del Mar (Newport Beach), a protected Marine Life Refuge where an on-going battle is being waged between photographers and the homeowners who claim that photographers are destroying the tidepools. Commercial photography requires a license, but even non-commercial photographers have reported being chased away by homeowners. I have been stopped and questioned every time I have been out at Little CDM, but I always seem to "pass the test" because I am knowledgeable about the environment, show that I care about the tidepools as much as the residents do, and never set my tripod up in the tidepools or do anything else that would cause damage to the fragile environment. I'm glad that the homeowners chase away anyone who doesn't show the same respect.
These are just a few things off the top of my mind. I hope it goes with saying to pick up your garbage and any you find. I'm sure there are many other examples, please share yours.
Nothing after the jump.