Home | Galleries | Limited Edition Prints | Stock List | Tear Sheets | Biography | My Two Cents | E-mail Me

My 2 Cents Archives

Killing a Bear for a Good Photo!

If you were to ask 20 different people to define the ethics of wildlife photography, you would get 20 different answers, maybe more. How close is too close? How does one deal with captive subjects? Is digital alteration acceptable? When is an animal being disturbed? All these address the many shades of gray that we photographers must decide for ourselves, and live with, often without any audience to judge us. But these issues, as much as they may pain us or those sensitive to wildlife, pale next to an issue that has recently been brought to light...the baiting of grizzly bears, at least one of which is now dead, to someone's backyard in order to photograph them. This issue is black and white!

I am referring to the most recent issue of National Wildlife Magazine (December/January 1999) which features a mother brown bear with cubs on the cover. Inside is an article on grizzly bear conservation. Where this becomes interesting is the irony in at least one of the photographs that appears with the article: the young grizzly on top of the bird feeder was killed as a result of the efforts of the photographer, to obtain these photographs. This bear and as many as 9 others were baited to his cabin in the North Fork of the Flathead River, just outside Glacier National Park, Montana. Grain was dumped around his yard and continued to be placed, even after warnings from bear managers in the area. Apparently to the photographer, the risks of drawing grizzlies close to humans, and conditioning them to dwellings, was worth getting some grizzly photos.

Attracting wildlife for a photograph is a common practice and is not necessarily bad. We do not think twice about feeding birds, and backyard bird feeders offer fantastic opportunities for photography. But what about some other things we might attract? Bears are attracted to bird feeders, and bears that are attracted to residential areas quickly lose their fear of people. These habituated bears present a danger to humans and their increased visibility makes them more vulnerable to poaching or management actions. What about deer, they never hurt anyone? Well, feeding deer causes them to spend more time in developed areas where they are increasingly vulnerable to collisions with cars or being attacked by dogs. Hardly the intention of the person who just wanted to take a few deer pictures.

What we all have to do a little more of is THINK. We have to consider the implications of how our actions will influence the very wildlife we enjoy. Our selfish desires to get good wildlife photographs must not jeopardize their fates. Feeding birds in bear country may be a bad idea, or should be limited to winter when bears are not active. Feeding deer around a remote farmhouse may be innocent, but doing the same thing in a city is not. Again, we are our own judges and have to live with our decisions.

How would you feel when your beautiful grizzly photo gets "ooohs and ahhhs" from an audience, knowing that you killed the bear to get the picture?