Not all good nature photography is pretty. If you believe, like I do, that nature photography should be used to highlight issues of environmental or conservation concern, then it cannot always be pretty. There are a variety of things, from toxic waste dumping to deforestation, that need to be captured in photos so that people can see the consequences of those actions. The aggressive predator control measures currently underway in the Lower 48 is a prime example.
I captured this image of a poached coyote during a visit to Montana in 2006. I was with my friend Nick Fucci at the time, and we were on our way back to his home in Big Fork after visiting the eastern part of Glacier National Park. We saw this fence on the edge of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and thought it would provide a nice leading line to the sunset and mountains in the background. We got out to capture some images, and I saw this coyote on the ground. Seeing the rope around its neck, I instantly thought of the aggressive predator control measures of the West.
Predator control has been around for centuries. It was transplanted to North America with the colonization of this land by western Europeans. Predators, especially wolves and coyotes, have long been seen as competition for food by humans. But there has also always been a primal, irrational fear of these animals that has been a driving force behind efforts to eradicate them. Wolves have always been depicted as cunning, blood thirsty savage animals – even with an enlightened knowledge that this is not the case, they are still depicted as much, as the new Liam Neeson movie “The Grey” shows.
So, despite scientific study after scientific study showing that wolves or coyotes will not deplete a prey population, and that they have minimal impact on livestock populations, western states have dramatically increased predator control measures. Alaska is among them, as I noted in a previous blog post.
And while people discuss and argue about predator control, waging media campaign wars and exchanging barbs on editorial pages across the western United States, it’s easy to talk about the consequences of predator control programs when they are in the abstract. It’s much harder to actually to favor predator control when you can see the impact of such vehemence. A campaign of hatred only breeds hatred. Here, a coyote that once bounded about in western Montana, spending its days hunting for voles or hare or whatever it could find, met an untimely end because it was unfortunate enough to live in a place where the wanton killing of others like its kind was not only allowed, but encouraged.