Are We Insta-Destroying Our Wild Places? The Importance of Conservation

Our national parks and public lands are suffering from reduced funding and a huge influx in traffic. Those of us who spend time in our national parks and nature in general need to advocate and learn to protect it for future generations. Learning more about conservation and practicing it is more important than ever – especially for those of us on social media.

I recently read a couple articles on this same subject, one was called “Is Social Media the End of Landscape Photograpy?” by Christian Hoiberg. The article discusses what our social media use, especially Instagram, is doing to our public lands. I highly recommend reading this article. It scared the crap out of me to be honest and has me evaluating my own social media behaviors. One statistic they shared in this article is that Horseshoe Bend a few years ago only saw a few thousand visitors a year. Last year they recorded over 1.5 million visitors. Areas like this that have become “the shot” for the Instagram community are not able to handle the amount of visitors.

The good news is we can still change things and I think part of that is providing more people with a conservation mind-set. The only way we can all work toward saving these places is by learning more about conservation and thinking about why we are going to the areas we want to see. If it is for adventure, travel and a place you think you would love, by all means, take a trip there. If it is a one-stop on your social media tour of attractions, think twice about going. If we continue to make it about the “likes” on Instagram, we are going to destroy our wilderness. Don’t get me wrong, I am on Instagram and Facebook and love to post photos from our trips. But, one of the things the article above suggests is to find new and unique places to visit and photograph and I am always trying to do that. Shouldn’t that be part of our journey anyway? I always love finding a new location to shoot where there is no one else around.

Below is one of my favorite spots in our local mountains, I am always the only one here – that is what I love most.

“Climbing Everest is the ultimate and the opposite of that. Because you get these high powered plastic surgeons and CEO’s, they pay $80,000 and have sherpas put the ladders in place and 8000 feet of fixed ropes and you get to the camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag. It’s already laid out with a chocolate mint on the top. The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.” – Yvon Chouinard, 180 South

This is one of my favorite quotes from Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. It has always stuck with me because of the truth to it – if you don’t choose to learn and grow from experiences, you stay the same – and we find these same type of people in varying levels throughout some of our adventures and wilderness experiences (for example, the guy blasting music on his hike adding to your experience, only not in a wanted way). We have a choice to be better people and stewards of the land and grow from our experiences or to use and abuse our lands as a selfish act until we no longer have them.

I honestly believe it should be part of the adventure/explorer culture to have a basic background in conservation. As I read article after article on the hoards of people traveling to our national parks and wild places and the increase in travel due to social media, I am getting pretty bummed out. I majored in environmental studies and worked at an environmental law firm and for the County of Orange, CA Environmental Management Agency. So, I realize that the knowledge I have going back a lot of years is an advantage that many explorers and travelers don’t start out with. I still think there are ways to change this for people and one big one is education – picking up a book. That way we can work toward protecting the places we love most in nature. If you aren’t a reader, just pick one or two or listen on an audiobook. I have listed suggestions at the end of this story. The more we allow ourselves to learn, the more we grow into better people for our environment and the other people we interact with in nature.

The other article I read was basically about visiting an awesome spot in Mexico before it becomes “insta-ruined.” It had me thinking all week about, “What if everyone just knew more about conservation and even cared a little bit?” It is all of our responsibility to do this – especially those of us on social media. We have to set examples for others to witness and learn from. So, please, I beg you to follow park rules and Leave No Trace principles, visit the places for the shots you want but consider looking for more unique shots that don’t always tread on the same land. Consider learning just a little bit about conservation if it is a newer concept to you. I am currently evaluating my own behavior in the highly traveled areas as I am guilty of going to these spots as well.

Let me add a disclaimer here: I know so many of you reading this story already protect our lands and are activists and environmentalists and care deeply about protecting our lands. Awesome! Keep it up and educate others. I realized when I read this article though that I still need to be sure I am doing the right thing and treading lightly on our land – I think we can always use the reminder.

Here are 10 books I definitely recommend:

  1. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson – book that pretty much started the environmental movement,
  2. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold – foundational book written in 1948 about conservation, policy and ethics
  3. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey – his memoir as a park ranger in Arches National Park
  4. Essential Muir – Selection of Essays – California Legacy Books – because, it’s John Muir
  5. Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner – the one book you should read on western water crisis
  6. Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard -because Patagonia and an awesome founder who cares deeply about the environment as a “reluctant businessman”
  7. Decade of the Wolf, Douglas Smith and Gary Ferguson –  an account of the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone by the scientists who were key to the success story
  8. 180 Degrees South- Conquerers of the Useless by Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins, Chris Malloy and Jeff Johnson – photo essay book based on the film with great behind-the-scenes look at film
  9. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – only because there are positive & negatives to learn here
  10. Tools for Grassroots Activists by Nora Gallagher and Lisa Myers – great starter kit for becoming an activist