From the President: Gordon Illg

A family of sandhill cranes has no fear of this photographer. Photo © Cathy Illg.

A family of sandhill cranes has no fear of this photographer. Photo © Cathy Illg.

Cathy and I just returned from our last photo tour, a week of pointing lenses at colorful birds and ancient reptiles in some of Florida’s remaining wetlands. Just about every location we visited was outstanding, so crammed with photographic possibilities it was sometimes difficult to choose which subject to put in the viewfinder. A viewer, judging from the images we came home with, would assume all is right with this sub-tropical environment. What the photos don’t show is that each wonderful site was separated from the others by a couple of hours of driving on some very busy roads. It’s perfectly true that there are still some great venues for those who enjoy photographing wild things and the places they live, but these venues are becoming more and more isolated, islands of biodiversity in a growing sea of concrete, asphalt and golf courses.

It would be easy to get discouraged about this apparently futile struggle against unchecked development, and at times it gets me down. But then I remember, heck, I’m already old, and I don’t have any children. I’ll probably have plenty of things to photograph before I join the wild things that are no longer here, so I have nothing to worry about. For those of you who are younger than dirt, don’t give up all hope. There are actually some encouraging signs if you know where to look, and one of the biggest is that humans are beginning to reconstruct habitat. Some of the best examples in Florida are water treatment facilities of all things. We’re finally taking a page out of nature’s book, and using plants’ natural ability to filter impurities to treat our water, and at the same time create valuable wildlife habitat. Almost half the places we visited on our photo tour were water treatment facilities. Every one of them had an incredible amount of wildlife, both in sheer numbers and diversity, the scenery was flat (to someone from Colorado) but still beautiful and the photography was outstanding. On top of that, the counties in charge had the foresight to build well-conceived walking trails through the facilities to provide plenty of access to the public. They actually made it easy to photograph the wildlife.

The wildlife took advantage of the new habitat right from the beginning. It also quickly got used to the visitors who came to marvel and take pictures. The animals are as tolerant of photographers at these wetlands as they are at any of the more famous Florida locations. In the accompanying photo, you can see me wishing I had a smaller lens because I had to keep backing up as this sandhill crane family was walking towards me. Eventually I ran out of room and they just walked around me, leaving me wishing I could’ve done the experience photographic justice. It will still be a moment I’ll always treasure, for few things in life are as special as being trusted by wild animals.

In the future, these are the kinds of positive changes that I foresee NANPA’s conservation efforts will document and even initiate. In fact, it’s already happening. The organization is already linked, at least indirectly, to a wide range of conservation projects around the country. And even though it was the work of others, I’m very proud to be president at a time when NANPA is jumping into the conservation movement with both feet. This is the path I always felt we should be taking, even back when I joined, more than two decades ago, and many of the stumbling blocks have finally been removed. I can hardly wait to see what’s in the future for NANPA.