How Social Media Is Destroying Our National Parks

Nov 18, 2015

Christina Adele

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

How Social Media Is Destroying Our National Parks

Nov 18, 2015

Christina Adele

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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I, like many others, am extremely active on social media. I check it first thing when I wake up and right before I fall asleep. I follow many people whose work I find inspiring and I constantly check hashtags in an effort to discover new people, new locations, and new perspectives. However, lately I have begun noticing a trend that extremely distressing to me as a conservationist and park ranger: People hurting the protected (and to me, the absolutely most sacred) land of our national parks, in order to get the shot. I don’t want to point fingers, name names, or even be a spoil-sport, but somebody has got to say something, and it might as well be me.

When I think of myself as a photographer, I think of myself as someone who tries to capture the beauty of a landscape how it naturally is –without alterations- to share with others. I believe that nature provides us with enough goodness regularly, that we have no reason to try and change it to be better. The whole reason I picked up photography in the first place was to show my friends and family back home the natural beauty of the place I live in, in an effort to get them to visit me (it worked by the way). I think of myself as caring about the environment first, thinking about the wildlife first, thinking about plants that cover the ground first, before I think about my shot. I still want things to be just as beautiful when I come back in 20 years with better equipment and more honed skills.

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Unfortunately, not everyone thinks this way. To them, the only purpose nature serves is to provide them with the shot that they can pump up in photoshop to gain more followers and impress their friends and family. They think about outdoing the shot the last person who visited got. They think about the now, and not about how their actions might affect these parks in the future. These actions continue to snowball as people do increasingly ridiculous things to outshine others.

Over the summer I helped run the social media for Grand Teton National Park. As part of that task, I constantly checked any and every teton-related hashtag for images for our accounts to feature. What I saw astounded me.

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Anyone who knows me knows that I am pretty much obsessed with Schwabacher Landing. It is my favorite place in Grand Teton, and Grand Teton is my favorite place in the world. So it goes without saying that Schwabacher Landing is my favorite spot on earth.  That’s why it broke my heart when I saw a photo with over 10,000 likes on instagram of a person camping, with a fire, right there at water’s edge of my favorite place. It broke my heart even more when I went back to the specific spot I recognized from the photo and saw the telling black scar on the ground. A scar that will be there for months, if not years, to come. The beautiful landscape that is supposed to be protected, marred.  Ruined for anyone else who comes to enjoy it. For what? For a photo? For likes?  It hardly makes sense.

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Again, my heart was broken when I saw someone advertising a knife company who sponsors them with a photo of a carving they had done on a tree in the park with the knife in the foreground and the Tetons in the background. I visited said knife company’s Instagram page and sure enough they had shared the photo to their thousands of followers, which only continued to promote the idea that not only is such behavior acceptable, its encouraged.

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However, both of these are extreme examples. It is the smaller, subtler actions that are quietly destroying the resources of our country’s best idea.  It’s hopping fences, going into closed areas, feeding wildlife, picking flowers, camping illegally, using drones, using sparklers for light painting, swimming in protected waters, bringing our pets into protected backcountry.

It can be hard for some to understand how just one person doing these things could possibly be a big deal. The problem is, its not just one person- its hundreds of people influencing thousands of people influencing millions of people.

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,After living in a national park I have personally seen the influences of many of these actions on the land and the wildlife. So much so that I could probably write a lengthy blog on how each these damages the environment. People holding food out to an animal to get that shot so many of the big accounts love. So many people hopping fences to get that shot they saw on Instagram, that there is a well-worn trail where there should be natural vegetation. Hot springs that have been so altered by the oils from human skin that the natural plants and bacteria are dying.  And of course, who could forget the drone crashing into the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in Yellowstone.

I understand the frustration of some people that the National Parks just have too many rules and it’s impossible to follow them all. Trust me, I understand. I would love to camp at Schwabacher Landing and get that POV tent shot. I would love to be able to take dogs on a hike with me and photograph them at a backcountry lake and I would love to fly my drone and get aerial shots of the Tetons. But, I understand that the rules are there for a reason. They are there to make sure these gorgeous lands and the wildlife they hold are protected for our future. Personally I think some of these, like hopping fences and feeding wildlife, have no place anywhere. But others like flying drones, hiking with pets, and sparklers are awesome and should be encouraged. But not in our protected lands.

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,It would be great if the Park Service could crack down on this and really enforce the rules. But the fact is, the parks are underfunded and there is simply no way rangers can be everywhere at once. It is up to us to have enough respect for these places that we follow the rules.

So how do we combat this growing trend? As photographers and as influencers, we can make the choice to respect the environment we capture, and to never take or post photos that encourage behavior otherwise. As followers, we can choose not to like photos and even comment on such posts letting them know we are not okay with that action. On top of that companies and hubs can make the choice not to feature these photos. With the National Park Service Centennial approaching in 2016, we need to act as a community and send the message that the National Parks are NOT the place for this behavior. It’s up to us to make the change.

About The Author

Christina Adele Warburg is a photographer in the Jackson Hole, Wyoming area specializing in Landscape and Portrait photography. You can see more of her work on her site, and interact with her on her blog and Facebook page. This article was also published here and shared with permission. Christina is also a Park Ranger in Grand Teton National Park

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19 responses to “How Social Media Is Destroying Our National Parks”

  1. Robin Avatar
    Robin

    So do you realise that the land you live on was once a wilderness, untouched, clean, virgin land, now you live in a house built on it, you use cars, planes, boats, all having an impact on the planet, the food you eat, cloaths you wear all have an impact, no one can say they dont damage the planet regardless of how carefull they are.

    1. schnellman Avatar
      schnellman

      Wow, really? I think he is not about tree hugging, but about respecting the set-aside areas in our parks. Yes, we cut down to build up, but shouldn’t there be some areas of sanctuary? That’s all.

    2. TByte Avatar
      TByte

      So do you realise that your comment was pointless?

  2. Donna Macauley Avatar
    Donna Macauley

    I don’t think it’s social media doing this. There have always been people who lack respect for the rules, nature, and other people. Social media may have just exacerbated the problem.

    1. ext237 Avatar
      ext237

      Very true, and elevated it to one-up-manship with “pic or it didn’t happen”. Great article. When one of these wild animals gets tired of the crap and stomps someone, TV News will say its the animal’s fault.

  3. Marc Avatar
    Marc

    Excellent article. It a shame more people don’t get it. They just make excuse to justify their actions.

  4. Valkyrie Avatar
    Valkyrie

    People seem to be addicted to social media. I find that scary. The fact they seek approval for everything they do via social media from their 500+ friends they’ve never met is equally scary. I’m beginning to hate this over connected world.

  5. Justin Morgan Avatar
    Justin Morgan

    Let’s be clear: social media is not making people commit these acts, they make the decisions themselves. As someone stated, social media may be exacerbating the problem, but it is not the root of the issue. People are making very poor decisions, unfortunately, and it’s important to remember that we’re all responsible for our own actions.

  6. mike Avatar
    mike

    I came in expecting a “Leave photography to the professionals” elitism rant, but instead got a “state parks would be better if less people visited them” rant.

    Of course they would, nature tends to do better when humans do not visit it. But, we can kiss funding for parks goodbye by simply denying those that don’t have the “right” to be there. Or we can educate people on how to be good visitors.

    None of this has anything to do with social media. It happens anytime you get a large number of people visiting an area.

    “To them, the only purpose nature serves is to provide them with the shot that they can pump up in photoshop to gain more followers and impress their friends and family.”

    Could easily be restated as “To you, the only purpose nature serves is to provide you with the shot that you can use in your portfolio and make more money off of it.”

  7. Ed Itable Avatar
    Ed Itable

    Was hoping to see photos of miscreants illustrating your reason for the rant. I am disappointed.

  8. Mark Davis Avatar
    Mark Davis

    This is just a worthless rant to me. The use of force will always achieve the opposite of its objectives. I have dealt with soon many sociopathic park rangers I refuse to Go to the national parks anymore.

    1. Mark Tomlinson Avatar
      Mark Tomlinson

      “sociopathic park rangers” <- seriously? Use of force?

      What's the evidence you see in this case?

    2. Aaron Moore Avatar
      Aaron Moore

      Instead of getting mad at the rangers, get mad at those who made visiting the National Parks less fun than it use to be! It takes 1 bad apple to screw up the crop.

  9. David Kinnear Avatar
    David Kinnear

    Back in the 1980s I was backpacking with friends in Glacier National Park. When my group picked up our backcountry permit, we learned of a campsite that had been closed due to grizzly bear activity. The next day, on the trail, we ran into a group, coming down the spur trail from the closed campsite, who told us about their scary bear experience the previous night. It seems that a grizzly went after a sausage that was in their tent! At the closed campsite! There have always been knuckleheads in National parks. Social Media just makes them more visible.

  10. JRSCline Avatar
    JRSCline

    This isn’t exactly new – the sharing and ‘liking’ is the point. Is yet another shame-campaign the way to go? Nope nope NOPE. God, no.

    But yes, a question like, “Hey, really – a fire, there?” etc. None of that internet-vigilante, justice-mob garbage. Just ask a question. Obvious enough.

  11. Mark Tomlinson Avatar
    Mark Tomlinson
      1. Mark Tomlinson Avatar
        Mark Tomlinson

        Really nice write-up Udi!

        Now we need some international news coverage – ‘cuz these guys have been all over the world being jackasses.

        Here’s a photo of one of the guys (Hamish McNab) clowning around at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany – just to use as his FB profile pic. His followers think it’s cool.

        1. udi tirosh Avatar
          udi tirosh

          sigh…..