In news recently was the utterly astonishing video posted by Boy Scout leaders who purposely destroyed an 20-million-year-old rock formation in Goblin Valley State Park, Utah. Since their video surfaced (see below) they’ve been subject to death threats and its come to light one of the suspects, the one toppling the formation, is in a law suit for disability. This is astonishing for numerous reasons. Their disregard for leave no trace, their stupidity for recording and sharing their law breaking actions on YouTube, their continued denial they’ve done something wrong and the utter disregard for nature. While these individuals are easy to vilify because of their stupidity it leaves me wondering are they really the exception or do the majority of people actually harm these types of locations just in a non-public fashion? This question comes to mind both because of this event and a recent trip of mine to a very sensitive place (photo to come tomorrow) where photographers, in the name of preservation, hold its location secret.
One could take a hardline interpretation to my question and state that everyone stepping foot on a protected area is technically destroying it, albeit slowly. The term “loving to death” comes to mind in these situations because it is the volume of people doing the damage, even if they are nature loving and respectful. As to the number of people who blatantly damage protected areas, I get the vibe the numbers are far higher than most would estimate. Those who are preservation minded often assume more people are like them than not, but the more I read about articles of vandalism & theft in state and national parks/monuments the more I think preservationists are the minority. Even with in the photography community I’ve seen people put their photo efforts first as they tread over protected areas.
This brings me back to my recent photo shoot where photographers keep a sensitive location secret. I was ultimately successful on my photo shoot in finding a hidden and very sensitive location, but to do so I had to piece clues together through research and spend a couple hours hiking/searching. How far should photographers go to keep sensitive locations secret?
The answer to that question likely depends on whether you consider yourself a conservation photographer, or at a minimum preservation minded photographer. I’ve gone back and forth on this with other photographers in private conversation and I always side on keeping the most sensitive locations secret. While I normally feel sharing information is the way to go, some locations are just too easily destroyed even by photographers. The problem with secrets of course is that it drives some to find it at all costs and those individuals aren’t always guaranteed to be preservationist minded. Ultimately its a real pickle of an ethics question. The right answer is ultimately the one that allows you to sleep at night.
As to the Goblin Valley incident This is beyond my comprehension that anyone could be this stupid. Given their role as Boy Scout leaders they really need to be made an example of when prosecuted.
The underlying disrespect and ignorance people have for nature is what irks me the most. While this flaw in our society is highlighted in this horrible situation, I find some solace knowing that it generates an uproar among those that know better. It creates an opportunity to education people. It’s just unfortunate it comes at such a cost.
- Men may face felony charges after toppling Goblin Valley formation
- Scout leader who filmed himself lifting and destroying ancient rock formation sued a motorist claiming car crash had left him with ‘debilitating and disabling’ back injury only LAST MONT
- Professional Climber Cuts Down Juniper Trees to Enable New Route
- Petroglyph thefts near Bishop stun federal authorities, Paiutes
- Photographer Poll on Accessing Closed Off Areas (3:1 said they’d break the rules)
As someone who grew up in Scouting, I was astonished to find that these two vandals were Scout Leaders. I can only hope they’ve been dismissed. They clearly aren’t leadership material.
I’m curious as to what you found so sensitive about the location you mention. If anything, I’ve found that the Earth is far more resilient than sensitive.
I wrote about a similar topic a while ago in the context of blogging about sensitive locations. (http://calipidder.com/wp/2013/03/sensitive-locations-and-our-responsibility-as-bloggers/). It’s a delicate line to walk, sharing the places we love vs protecting them. Unfortunately, boneheaded cretins like these make us ask these questions.
I have another question to propose to you and other photographers. Regarding the secret location you mentioned in the first paragraph. Upon finding a difficult to access unique location or very fragile formation would you ever consider photographing it just for yourself and never post it on the web? As far as I’m concerned whenever an outstanding image of a rarely seen or photographed location hits the web it will be found and exploited, period, for better or worse.
I can’t say what I would do since there are no longer any hidden corners on Earth and sooner or later everything shows up on the web. This subject came up a few days ago on the Facebook group West Coast Landscape Photographers in response to the following website and the Goblin Valley fiasco.
Over the years I have watched the San Rafael Swell area be destroyed by folks on ATVs. I’ve ever seen people riding dirt bikes in the slot canyons. I think people rationalize it by saying it is “Public” land, therefore they have the right to do what they want.
Keep areas secret as long as possible. I was lucky to discover Capitol Reef and San Rafael long before most folks, and spent lots of time shooting in the parks.
Sigh. This event is such a travesty, and I confess it has brought out the cynic in me. Generally, I think people are nice (depending upon how you define it). But, get out of urban areas and values change rapidly. Call it education, culture, whatever, we seem to have a problem in this regard.
This is not to say that people in rural areas don’t love where they live. I spend a lot of time in eastern Oregon, and some of those folks would string you up in a heartbeat if they discovered you defacing a natural formation or something similar. I also don’t mean to say that people in rural areas have unbalanced values. But their values towards nature are different, in my experience.
But these guys…this is plain ignorance. Plain, raw ignorance, and to anyone who will listen, I say cull the herd.
One final kvetch, maybe in answer to the question you pose. Anyone into landscape photography has run across images of a certain waterfall in Glacier NP in Montana. It’s an incredible scene, and also located off trail in a sensitive alpine environment that’s closed to public access.
Every year, I see images of this waterfall published by photographers. I just saw one from a photographer that I know you know, talking about how [they] took great care to cross the landscape…
Yada, yada. [They] broke the rules for their own purposes (to sell workshops, ebooks, etc.) and then posted the image on their site, other (publisher) websites, in social media, etc.
We learn from what we see. Photographers do it, kids do it, we all do it. The reality is that all of us, each and everyone of us, needs to take responsibility for the natural world. This is a scary reality, but how else do you affect human nature?
I don’t believe you have an ethical debate. This is a 2 sided coin. Erosion and natural forces would eventually change the landscape also. Being a preservationist or a tourist just ever so slightly speed the process of erosion that is nearly imperceivable, but lets face it, vandals are the one true misaligned destructive force. Hell they might as well be members of the Taliban who blow up ancient relics in the name of their religion. These scout leaders are terrorists, and anyone else that knew this location was merely seeking enrichment through harmless observation. When I see these obese losers in action, I can’t help but think of how similar it was to see the 2 teenage girls beating up on seals on La Jolla in the dark of night. Sadly I think you are right in suggesting these acts are closer to the norm. Most people are so ignorant and cruel it sickens me. I think the ethical debate is whether humanity is a cancer over the natural world, or merely a decimating evolutionary force with an appetite to eventually destroy everything.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid we’re in the minority here. I wake up every single morning in the shadow of the Smokies, which is the most visited national park in the US. It has been my experience, that in the more “public” areas (i.e., not backcountry) of the park there are so many people who don’t think anything about doing something harmful.
Last year sometime my wife and I decided to go on a leisurely hike on one of the really popular trails (very short and paved). At some point we saw these people climbing all over this rock face (not a place people are supposed to be in this case and a somewhat destructive activity). Long story short, before we got near, someone fell and got injured (score one for nature) and the group’s response was that “someone” should do something about how unsafe it was. I guess they missed all the giant signs telling them to keep of the rocks. This isn’t exactly the same as the vandals in Utah, but their excuse for the vandalism reminded me of it.
I wish there was someway to preemptively sort out the idiots (like these guys) from the rest of us who are perfectly content to enjoy nature in a respectable and minimally destructive way (e.g., leave no trace).
I referenced this in a reply to you via Twitter but I think this the majority to the rule, and photographers aren’t an exception to it, either. Two years ago, you posted a poll on G+ with a hypothetical question about accessing a closed area if you knew you would not get caught (link here). To my horror and disgust, the OVERWHELMING majority of responses indicated that they would indeed enter the closed area to photograph.
Now, I don’t think photographers would be as blatant as the three fools from Utah but there’s no doubt in my mind that many have no problem breaking or bending rules. I would echo some of what Wesley brought up. Star landscape photography is pretty popular and in the Pacific Northwest, there’s been a rash of photos taken at Johnston Ridge in the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument. There’s just one problem- Johnston Ridge is closed to visitors from 9pm – 7am during the summer. It’s a posted sign but otherwise there doesn’t seem to be any active enforcement of this. I was disappointed by this but I respected the rule. Plenty of others are not.
It seems to be the same all over the world: The Burren is a protected limestone karst landscape in Ireland. Unfortunately it is also a tourism magnet and one of the popular pastimes of many visitors is to break up the limestone pavement and build miniature dolmens and towers. On confrontation most of these people act surprised and unaware that they are destroying a landscape that was in the making for thousands of years.
I sometimes wonder if we as a species are way too self absorbed and egocentric to care about the rest of the world. It’s simply frustrating.
Purposeful vandalism, carelessness and most other cruel acts stem from not having ethics or values instilled in childhood. But what about more subtle disregard and insensitivity such as trampling sensitive habitat or recovering ground cover and similar less intentional harm? These come from the same cause: lack of education and role models in relation to the sensitivity of the natural world. Even if people have no respect for nature itself, simple parenting lessons such as cleaning up after ourselves, thinking of how we would want to find an area, consideration for those who come after us, even if nobody comes after us, all go back to upbringing or the lack of it. Today, many parents and teachers who are supposedly leading and educating future generations, were never informed themselves.
What we as a civilization don’t seem to realize is that by continuing to use fossil fuels, we are each individually pushing over the rock every day. We know it’s wrong, but because everyone is doing it and it has not been designated as a legal violation, we keep doing it.