R-E-S-P-E-C-T

August 03, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Good and Perfect GiftMountain's GiftSugar Hill, New Hampshire Given that there's an epidemic of bad behavior in America these days, some of the things I encounter when working out in the field, or hear about anecdotally, shouldn't surprise me. Still, I find myself shaking my head in disbelief.

This subject has been front-of-mind since spring when the lupines were in bloom back in the mountains of New Hampshire. It's a magical time when roadsides, fields, farms and gardens are dotted with showy spikes of white, pink, blue, and purple. The epicenter of the display is in and around the little village of Sugar Hill, though you'll find the blooms throughout the surrounding mountain communities. The annual Celebration of Lupines Festival is quite a draw.

I was dismayed to hear some Sugar Hill residents were so frustrated by the behavior of visitors coming to see this year's display that they're considering throwing in the towel and mowing their lupine fields. This includes people I know. 

What prompted this reaction? The flowers were being trampled. Picked. Some were even dug up. Locals were awakened by strangers plodding across their property at four in the morning. Polite requests to respect private property were met with hostility. Property owners who spoke up were considered the bad guys. 

Not that anyone should behave in this way, but it's especially discouraging when photographers are involved. Who else would be out there before the sun comes up?

While on the subject of wildflowers, I saw something this year in Grand Teton National Park that was a first for me: people picking enormous handfuls of blooms. It happened to be children doing the damage, but their parents were watching and clearly had no problem with it. The kids plucked as many flowers as they could hold, then dropped the "bouquets" to the ground and started all over again.

The park hosts as many as 600,000 visitors during the month of June. Imagine if they all picked the wildflowers. What would be left to enjoy?

This lack of respect isn't limited to plants, of course. I've lamented here in the past about people speeding through Grand Teton National Park, ignoring posted limits. One bear cub, one elk and four deer were killed by vehicles in a single week at the end of June. Why the rush? How about some respect for wildlife?

By the way, if you don't think these animals are sentient beings, when 399's cub Snowy - her only offspring that year - was hit by a car and killed in 2016, she dragged the poor thing's body off the highway and laid it by a log. Then she refused to leave Snowy and appeared to be in distress. The park service had to haze her to get her away from the road and out of danger. 

The driver left the scene. 

How can that not break your heart?

There's so much stupid stuff going on just at my two local parks it's hard to keep track of it all.

Harassing wildlife is all too common. Yellowstone's bison are routinely bothered; it's surprising the animals tolerate it to the extent they do. Bison in GTNP aren't immune to provocation, either. Just a few weeks ago two men approached and touched a baby bison in GTNP which, as you may know, can result in the red dog being rejected by the herd. The animal pays with its life. Apparently many people are also oblivious to the fact that adult bison are exceptionally agile and can run as fast as 35mph. If they want to, they'll hurt you. Badly. 

Physical damage to the parks is a problem, too. Hike through the thermal features at Yellowstone - especially Grand Prismatic Spring - and you'll see footprints in some of the bacteria mats. Not only is it dangerous to veer off the walkways, but walking in those sensitive areas does tremendous damage to delicate ecosystems. 

The Morning Glory pool was once a beautiful Caribbean blue, but after years of people throwing junk into it (coins, rocks, etc.), the blue has vanished. Morning Glory is now green and yellow - and those colors are muted.  

There are plenty of other examples of vandalism.

Finally: carelessness with fire. A few years ago I was out on a morning shoot with a buddy in Bridger-Teton National Forest just outside GTNP when we smelled smoke. This not being a camping area, we weren't expecting to find a campfire, yet there it was - still hot and beginning to flare up with the breeze. Using all the drinking water we had on us wasn't enough to douse it. I ran back to my vehicle for more water and encountered two people who had just arrived. Thankfully, they had a camp shovel in the back of their jeep. That - and our combined water - was enough to do the trick. What might have happened had we not been there? 

I realize I'm being kind of a Debbie Downer this week, but this type of stuff is frustrating. Discouraging. Sometimes heart-rending.

As nature photographers, we have an added responsibility to be respectful of the environments in which we work, and to respect the animals who call those places home.

Photographers, of all people, should not be part of the problem.

If we're lucky, maybe our good behavior will influence others.


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