Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Nature: to share or not to share?

I was browsing Instagram today, and one of the accounts I follow, extreme_oregon, wrote about their decision not to share the locations of the photos they post. They asked for thoughts and received several comments from followers on either side of the fence, but they ultimately decided they would no longer be posting the locations of the photos they feature.

"I'm thinking about no longer sharing the locations of the places I shoot unless they are very commonly known. I have been noticing some heavy disrespect to many natural places I visit and it seems to be getting worse at a rapid rate. I am not blaming anyone nor claim to never leave a footprint anywhere, but I feel this page has become more of a travel guide than an art page and worry that I am contributing to the trampling of many pristine places. Can you guys appreciate the photographs on this page for what they are and still be interested in viewing if I don't state the location? Thoughts?"

It is disappointing, because I've used their account (as well as many other Instagram accounts) to build a list of places I'd like to visit and photograph. At the same time, I completely understand where they are coming from, and I respect their decision. It also made me think about whether I should do the same thing in the future (although my blog and Instagram account are not popular or well known and are only seen by a few people).

I've written about a similar topic before in my post about the downsides of a popular nature attraction. One of my favorite places in the world is the beautiful Oneonta Gorge, a canyon with moss covered walls and a waterfall at the back. A few years ago, Oneonta Gorge was not well known. In recent years, it's had a large increase in visitors, most likely due to photos of it online and being featured in guides about the Columbia River Gorge. As a result, Oneonta Gorge gets very crowded during certain seasons and certain times of the day. Enough people enter the gorge at times that there is a line to get over the log jam.

From TripAdvisor. Waiting to cross the log jam at Oneonta Gorge.

I'm willing to visit the gorge right after the sun rises, or outside of the summer season, in order to avoid the crowds. But what I worry about is not just avoiding the crowds, but whether Oneonta Gorge is still going to be around years from now. I worry about the large amount of visitors destroying the gorge. It's not a big place, and I wonder if it can handle this many people going in and out of it. An even bigger concern is people purposefully destroying the gorge by leaving trash in it, ripping the moss off walls or trampling over the plant life in the gorge.

It's very sad, but some people have no respect or appreciation for nature. It makes me want to cry when I see carvings and graffiti on trees and rocks, plants trampled over, and trash left behind. I don't want people who do those things to visit my favorite places or visit unknown, off-the-map places. I don't want everything to become a tourist attraction.

The owner of Extreme Oregon posted this in the comments regarding his decision:
"I recognize the majority of people are respectful and careful in nature. There is an element that is not that way and don't seem to care about anything but themselves, their selfie or their DSLR photo. The latter in my opinion, don't easily respond to being lectured on the Leave no Trace practices. I am conflicted because I want people to get to see these natural places if they respect it, but don't if they won't. Since my IG page doesn't discriminate, the only control I have is to not post location. Second, the more time I spend in nature, the more I fall in love with it. It would break my heart to think of a bunch of new trails, trampling, trash, tagging and noise at some of my favorite places that few people currently go. I know some increase in traffic is inevitable as population grows around here, but I don't have to feel I may be partially to blame for it."
I feel the same way. It would be heartbreaking if any of these beautiful places were destroyed by crowds and/or disrespectful people. As much as I appreciate popular nature photographers sharing the locations they've photographed, and as much as I want to keep sharing the places I visit, I wonder if doing so is a mistake. At this point, it's probably fine to name the places that are already well known, but I worry about the places that are more of a secret.

I hate the idea that nature should be exclusive only to a certain set of people, or that some places need to be kept secret, but I understand why those ideas are coming about. I'd like to think that efforts to educate the general public about Leave No Trace principles and how to respect nature would be a better way to go than keeping places secret, but given some of the behavior I've seen, I don't have much confidence in the general public.

So for now, I'm torn about whether I should follow other bloggers and nature photographers in not sharing locations, or if I should continue to share locations but try my best to educate others on how to treat nature when they visit. I haven't visited anything that's not well known, no one really pays attention to my blog, and I don't have many followers on Instagram, but any of those could change in the future, especially as I plan to explore further in the coming years. I'll have to put some more thought into this issue moving forward.

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