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Ethics Committee

To disclose...
By Jim Erhardt

As the human population continues to expand and wildlife habitat continues to shrink, many wildlife species increasingly struggle to survive. As nature photographers, our passion for recording the natural world on film is a double-edged sword. On one hand, our images may serve to invite the uninformed or the careless to visit the location themselves, placing delicate ecosystems under additional stress. On the other hand, recording these ecosystems for the world to see may help bring public awareness and much-needed help to these areas.

Sometimes the nature photographer will not have to decide whether to disclose a location. A local conservation agency might request that the identity of a location be withheld to protect the area from the hordes of tourists and photographers often seen at our national parks. In other cases, park officials may encourage the nature photographer to label their images in order to generate interest and additional traffic. However, sooner or later, the nature photographer will have to make a judgment call on whether or not to disclose a location.

Consider the following situation:

You have made a trip to some out-of-the-way tract of land to enjoy a day of nature photography. While there, you discover an abundant community of wildlife that remains unfettered by the sea of humanity that surrounds it. Or perhaps you discover a nest of some endangered bird species thought to have already vanished from the area. Using your skills as a naturalist, you're able to create breath-taking images in a way that does not stress the subject. You leave at the end of the day with the nature images of a lifetime, but you also realize that you now face a quandary as to whether you should tell anyone where you captured the images. You worry that the continuing incursion of humans will disrupt, or perhaps even destroy, this haven for wildlife. In the interest of habitat and wildlife preservation, you decide to remain quiet and not reveal the location.

A few months later, you find a story in the local newspaper about some new construction in the same area. A knot forms in your stomach as you realize that the area where you had found the wildlife has now been destroyed in the name of progress. Your head spins with anger and grief as you torment yourself as to whether you made the right decision. What if you had revealed the location, and as a result of doing so, the plans for construction were met with opposition from concerned citizens and government officials? Were your concerns regarding additional human incursion in the area unfounded because an informed environmental agency would have restricted public access to the area?

This is a hypothetical story, but one that in this day and age may seem hauntingly real. As nature photographers, disclosing the location of where we capture our images plays a pivotal role in educating the public and environmental agencies. Knowing where wildlife retains a foothold is as important as knowing where it struggles for survival. Without the knowledge of where such situations occur, it becomes more difficult for us as a community to understand the circumstances of these life and death battles, and what can be done about them.

Jim Erhardt is the publisher of Nature Photographers Online Magazine - www.naturephotographers.net

...or not to disclose
by Bill Silliker

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