A Nature Photographer’s Thanksgiving, Part 1

A bugling elk in Yellowstone is a favorite subject of photographers.
A bugling elk in Yellowstone is a favorite subject of photographers.

Story & photo by Frank Gallagher

As we approach Thanksgiving, many of us make an inventory of those people and things for which we are grateful. In that list we often find the landscapes and animals and plants that give us such joy when we’re out with our cameras. Not surprisingly, many of the items on our list reside in national parks. But, if we are so grateful for them, what are we doing to protect and preserve them?

A recent New York Times piece got me thinking. Author, photographer, and former park ranger Jon Waterman wrote about the beating our parks are taking from overcrowding, climate change and lack of funding. The National Park Service’s twin mandates of preservation and public access are often at odds, he wrote. Several parks are considering caps on visitor numbers during peak seasons. Most parks are dealing with crumbling, outdated or overwhelmed facilities, as well as the effects of droughts, invasive plants or insects and a changing climate.

Many conservation photographers are telling the stories of species and environments, educating the public, through their photographs, about the challenges and threats faced by stunning landscapes, flora and fauna. You don’t have to be a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers to be a conservation photographer.  We can all, in our own ways, contribute to the protection and preservation of nature. NANPA’s Conservation Photography Handbook (in the Members’ Area) is a good source to get you started.

Citizen science projects often need photographers. That’s one way you can have an impact without being a scientist. NANPA has a database of citizen science projects to give you some ideas. You can also volunteer your time and photography talents or other skills to organizations such as Friends of the Parks (check with the National Parks Foundation for more information about Friends groups). From photos documenting changes in vegetation over time to shots of awards and volunteer days, local parks groups often need images to share with media outlets, on social media and in fundraising appeals. There are many ways to help.

You don’t have to get an op-ed published in the New York Times to be an advocate. A letter to your local newspaper or community website, a note to your elected representatives, a presentation to your camera club or a community organization can have a big impact.

Historian and author Wallace Stegner once said America’s national parks were “the best idea we ever had.” If we are truly thankful for them and other precious places and species, we should also be thinking of how we can support and protect them. Judging by the stories one hears in conversations at NANPA conferences and regional events, as well as by the glorious photos and educational captions we see in Showcase and the NANPA Instagram and Facebook and Facebook Group accounts, many (maybe most) NANPA members are already doing important conservation work. 

For those efforts, future generations will be thankful.