So while most of us can understand why many parks have policies in place that discourage bear watching, in my opinion, it’s a futile fight, and a misguided one to boot.
The power of jams
Parks like Banff and Yellowstone will never, on their own, be sufficient to sustain functioning
populations of large carnivores. Yet, in order to create the political will to establish large, connected and roadless wildernesses, these parks can assist conservation through land protection, yes, but more critically can act as the conduit for people to understand and appreciate nature.
We need parks – and their frontline spokespeople, rangers – to champion policies and people that use wildlife jams as a manageable tool to provide people with first-hand education and positive experiences (and photos) to take home to share with their social networks.
Yes, there will be times when a wildlife jam is inappropriate (impact on the animal, impact on traffic, people safety, etc.) and a good ranger knows the difference between a bad jam that can’t happen and a good jam that is safe.
But by educating the untrained tourist at wildlife viewing opportunities – and empowering the many responsible photographers who are well-versed in animal behaviour – parks can create the conditions for positive experiences that will translate into an environmentally conscious populous. (To give credit, my mother has been arguing this point for years.)
This is a philosophy that is wholeheartedly embraced in Banff and Jasper and within some regions of Yellowstone (Lake Region).
Still, in some parts of Yellowstone (the northeast), Grand Teton National Park and especially in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, policies persist that actively discourage people from watching bears and, in the name of saving bruins, actually try to make the animals more aggressive toward people (more on that in another post).
Imperfection at its best
I don’t pretend to have all of the answers and, yes, at times wildlife photography can hurt the subjects we’re trying to capture.
That said, it strikes me that rather than trying to seek an impossible-to-achieve utopia, where animals that encounter people are left to their own devices, we should embrace reality and work to take advantage of a marvelous engagement opportunity.
Parks can help people find inspiration from wildlife watching/wildlife photography and, in the doing, drive up much needed visitation numbers that will, in turn, yield more resources to ensure the proper balance is struck.
Indeed, this is the fine line of wildlife photography in an imperfect world. For throwing the baby out with the bathwater is to waste what I believe is our greatest opportunity for engaging the unengaged in the quest to protect the true wilderness – places
where the animals will always come first.
D. Simon Jackson | GhostBearPhotography.com