As nature photography has grown, so has its critics. Wardens, legislators, and police officers have begun to push for laws that would better protect animals in nature and create more concrete boundaries by which a potential shooter would follow. Are we, as photographers, the new law-breaching intruders, à la poachers? Are we destroying nature?
With the advances in technology over the last decade, such as social media and digital cameras, has come a growing popularity in nature photography. Nature photography can be anything from animals in their natural habitat, insects, natural phenomenon (such as waterfalls), and sometimes includes landscape photography as well. The issue is when photographers push the boundaries and inflict their own vision onto nature, or when they disturb nature with their presence. Some photographers are doing things like moving a nest for better framing, cutting down a tree or branch for a better view, and approaching animals (ePhotoZine). In other cases it's simply an overload of photographers, as was the situation in Florida's Fort De Soto Park recently. A pair of Great Horned Owls nested in the park near a popular picnic area. When news of this reached Twitter, "[Photographers] were coming by the bus load" to capture the pair (Jim Wilson, Audubon). Often, 50 plus photographers will group in one area, disturbing the species for hours, in an attempt to snap the perfect shot.
Natural Reserve Wardens are patrolling the areas of popular photography spots to ensure that photographers aren't disturbing nature. Wardens these days are without the necessary power to police those who are intrusive. Their only moves are to call the local police or to "appeal to the better nature of people" (Anna Paul, Audubon). Without specific laws in place or the authority to enforce them, those who seek to protect a natural environment are left unarmed.
Are More Laws the Solution?
Some species are specifically protected, as is the case with snail kites. A recent survey suggests their population has diminished from 3,000 to 700 in the last decade, making them a very rare and endangered species. In 2014 a Florida man pled guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act. The judge ordered him to pay a $9,000 fee, complete 25 hours of community service, and write a formal apology in an ornithological publication. The Florida man, Jim Neiger, had been leading tour groups of photographers onto Lake Tohopekaliga with promises of seeing this endangered species. This wasn't what got him into trouble though. In his quest for photos of the endangered species, he would ignore signs which clearly stated that humans were not allowed past a certain point, breaching the 500-foot legal boundary. He repeatedly did this even when confronted and was once spotted harassing a bird for a couple of hours to get a shot (Audubon).
Many individuals are pushing for more laws in place to strictly define what's legal. With the snail kites, they were protected because of their endangered status and the laws that come with that classification. Specifically, a 500-foot boundary area. Should there be more strict laws in place for all animals, not just the endangered ones? There are grey areas as well. What about baiting? The idea being that a photographer would place food somewhere they felt was a good spot to photograph in an attempt to lure the animal to it. This is already against the law in many National Parks but what about everywhere else? How about yelling, yelping, using bird calls, and making quick movements in an attempt to capture the targeted species attention?
This is the policy that I think would be the best fit for nature photographers. With photographers, the issue is rarely a disrespect for the species we're attempting to photograph. It's quite the contrary: we love nature and would happily do whatever is necessary to preserve it. We often see ourselves as the heroes of nature preservation. Jim Wilson, Park Supervisor for Florida's Fort De Soto Park, admitted that "ninety-nine percent of photographers are well behaved; we just don't want that one percent to ruin it for the rest of them." Many organizations, such as the National Parks Board, are hosting workshops and writing pamphlets to help guide photographers in what is acceptable behavior (Today). Some publications are keeping a special eye out for suspicious photographs. Photos where the bird, or any other species, appears stressed, as if he may have been harassed (Audubon).
If you're a nature photographer, let's be courteous. In fact, take it one step further. If you see one of your nature photographer comrades breaching into what would be considered unacceptable behavior, kindly and respectfully ask them to refrain. The access and freedom we have now to pursue a passion we love is incredible. Let's not screw it up for everyone by pushing the limits just to get a shot. Preservation of wildlife comes first, the shot comes second.
What do you think? Do we need more laws? Do you think this is as big of a problem as many officials do? If so, what's the best solution?