North American Bison

Peo­ple, they say, are the ones who save wild places. Bears don’t vote, after all. But wild crit­ters are still at the cen­ter of con­ser­va­tion bat­tles, and every bat­tle needs an icon. Here are some of the wild crea­tures that have found them­selves on conservation’s main stage.

finchThe Finch
“The most curi­ous fact is the per­fect gra­da­tion in the size of the beaks in the dif­fer­ent species of Geospiza, from one as large as that of a hawfinch to that of a chaffinch, wrote a young nat­u­ral­ist on an island in the east­ern Pacif­ic. The birds, of course, were finch­es, with slight­ly dif­fer­ent beaks for pry­ing open slight­ly dif­fer­ent food sources. The islands were the Gala­pa­gos, and the nat­u­ral­ist was a young man named Charles Dar­win. The finch­es inspired the con­cepts of evo­lu­tion and nat­ur­al selec­tion, and the 1959 pub­li­ca­tion of the Ori­gin of the Species rearranged our entire world view. Darwin’s finch­es changed the mean­ing of being human—from being sep­a­rate and above the nat­ur­al world to being a part of it that’s con­stant­ly being remade.

egretThe Egret
Dain­ty, ethe­r­i­al, and val­ued for feath­ers that adorned the hats of high soci­ety gath­er­ings at the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry, egrets were hunt­ed until they were at risk. To pro­tect them, Har­ri­et Hemen­way and Mina Hall formed a group called the Audubon Soci­ety. When one of their emis­saries asked Pres­i­dent Ted­dy Roo­sevelt to pro­tect Pel­i­can Island in Flori­da in 1903, Roo­sevelt, as the sto­ry goes, turned to an aide and asked if any law pre­vent­ed him from declar­ing the island a refuge. When the aide shook his head, Roo­sevelt sim­ply respond­ed, “Then I so declare it.” The Nation­al Wildlife Refuge sys­tem was born. Fif­teen years lat­er, Pres­i­dent Wil­son signed the Migra­to­ry Bird Treaty Act, to this day one of the strongest laws pro­tect­ing birds.

North American BisonThe Bison
Bison used to roam the great plains in inde­scrib­able num­bers. Upwards of 60 mil­lion ranged from the edge of Alas­ka to Mex­i­co and from the Rock­ies to the east­ern states. But the seem­ing­ly inex­haustible bison were slaugh­tered, along with the Indige­nous pop­u­la­tions that depend­ed on them, in the west­ward expan­sion of the late 1800s. We pulled back from the brink of total extinc­tion, but just bare­ly: only 300 bison remained in the U.S. in 1900. Today there are rough­ly 360,000 wild buf­fa­lo in the Dako­tas, Yel­low­stone, Mon­tana and Utah, but they’re at risk from lim­it­ed genet­ic diver­si­ty. The decline of the buf­fa­lo was the first wake-up call about the Tragedy of the Com­mons; but it wouldn’t be the last.

atlantic codThe Atlantic Cod
Cod was like gold—except it tastes bet­ter when bat­tered and fried. Lit­er­al wars have been fought over cod fish­ing grounds. Colo­nial Amer­i­ca relied on the sea’s boun­ty of cod to both feed and finance the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. Like the bison, cod was once so abun­dant nobody could imag­ine the fish­ery fail­ing, but it did. Over­fish­ing and drag-trawls that dam­aged the seafloor cod depend­ed on led to a cycle of decline. Pres­sured to make a liv­ing as stocks fell, New Eng­land and Cana­di­an fish­er­men fished even hard­er. Radar and sonar-equipped trawlers found cod in deep­er waters—but also increased bycatch of non­com­mer­cial fish, which deplet­ed the cod’s food source. By the 1980s, the fish­ery was in deep trou­ble, and like north­west­ern log­ging towns, with the cod went the liveli­hood of many. By the time any­one act­ed, it was too late. A two-year cod mora­to­ri­um in 1992 was imposed on the Grand Banks to see if the cod pop­u­la­tion would recov­er. The ban is still in place today. As with the bison, we learned from our mis­takes. The Marine Stew­ard­ship Coun­cil was found­ed in 1997 to set stan­dards for sus­tain­able fish­ing lev­els for species around the globe. Cal­i­for­nia and Ore­gon have estab­lished marine reserves: fish­ing-free zones where fish can breed.

spotted owlThe Spot­ted Owl
To any­one who lived in Ore­gon or Wash­ing­ton at the time, the 1980s and 90s was the era of “Spot­ted Owl Wars,” a long strug­gle between log­ging inter­ests and con­ser­va­tion in the Pacif­ic Northwest’s ancient forests. The endan­gered Spot­ted Owl became a sym­bol on both sides. To con­ser­va­tion­ists, it was the endan­gered icon of a van­ish­ing ecosys­tem. To res­i­dents of tim­ber-depen­dent towns, it was an obscure bird threat­en­ing their liveli­hood. Years of leg­isla­tive and court bat­tles lat­er, the out­come of this seem­ing­ly zero-sum game was that every­one lost. Jobs and mills dis­ap­peared from tim­ber towns, but from mech­a­niza­tion and the eco­nom­ic shift to tech­nol­o­gy, not from envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. Two decades lat­er, spot­ted owl pop­u­la­tions are still in decline, and forests remain frag­ment­ed and slow to recover.

gray wolvesThe Gray Wolf
The Gray Wolf rivals the spot­ted owl for its polar­iz­ing effect: to some it’s a scary preda­tor. To oth­ers, it’s a nat­ur­al part of the Amer­i­can eco­log­i­cal fab­ric that was wrong­ly vil­i­fied. When wolves were re-intro­duced to Yel­low­stone in the 1990s, the ecosys­tem of our first nation­al park rebound­ed. The wolves unleashed an eco­log­i­cal rip­ple effect: wolves kept elk herds on the move, which allowed stream banks to heal, which helped trout pop­u­la­tions. Coy­otes gave up ter­ri­to­ry and squir­rel pop­u­la­tions rebound­ed, which meant more seeds were dis­trib­uted, so forests recov­ered faster from fires. An adapt­able, ver­sa­tile species that avoids humans, wolves now thrive in Mon­tana, Ida­ho, Wash­ing­ton and North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, with rel­a­tive­ly few con­flicts with peo­ple. The wolf is a sym­bol that we can live with preda­tors after all.

PikaThe Next One: The Pika
The next sym­bol for a major con­ser­va­tion issue may well be an adorable, small and reclu­sive rel­a­tive of the rab­bit, the Pika. A year-round inhab­i­tant of high moun­tains, the Pika pop­u­la­tion is declin­ing because of cli­mate change—and since they live in the high peaks, there’s nowhere fur­ther up for them to go.

people Mather PointThe Oth­er Next One: The Human
It’s easy for those of us that seek out wild places at every oppor­tu­ni­ty to assume that con­ser­va­tion is about wolves, fish, owls and forests. But the next poster ani­mal for con­ser­va­tion is human beings. As cli­mate change cre­ates severe storms and hot­ter sum­mers, the impacts of flood­ing, dis­place­ment, dis­ease, asth­ma and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease make peo­ple, not pel­i­cans or pen­guins, the species that we’ll want to pro­tect. We have met the ally, and it is us.

Bio
Born and raised in Indi­ana, Brooke is an adven­tur­er, endor­phin junkie, and lover of the out­doors who has trav­eled to five con­ti­nents. A free­lance mul­ti­me­dia jour­nal­ist, Brooke’s craft enables her the freedomto trav­el. Brooke is fas­ci­nat­ed with lan­guages and can order a cof­fee in Hin­di, sing Swahili lul­la­bies, and ask for direc­tions in Mandarin.

A Dream Come True
I hon­est­ly felt like The Clym­b’s Ecuador & Gala­pa­gos trip was cre­at­ed just for me. I loved hik­ing in the breath­tak­ing Cotopaxi Nation­al Park and sum­mit­ing Cotopaxi. One of the best days we had was moun­tain bik­ing through the East Andes in the morn­ing, hik­ing up and down a stun­ning water­fall, and zip-lin­ing in the evening. If I had to choose a favorite activ­i­ty from the entire trip, it would be snor­kel­ing in the Gala­pa­gos. I just kept repeat­ing, “este es mi sueno hecho real­i­dad,” mean­ing “this is my dream made a reality.”

Pack­ing List
My pack­ing list is always writ­ten in orange sharpie. I start mak­ing a list from my feet up. For this excur­sion I knew I’d need my run­ning shoes and Cha­cos. I brought active clothes suit­able for a warmer cli­mate. I could’ve used a few more warm clothes when stay­ing in the moun­tain region of Ecuador. How­ev­er, that gave me an excuse to buy an alpaca sweater. If I plan to shop for local or inter­est­ing clothes on a trip, I’ll pur­pose­ful­ly not pack the items I think I’ll buy to free up room in my bag for one-of-a-kind trea­sures. I also always bring my water bot­tle and pro­tein bars for flights. My favorite item to bring on my trav­els is my cam­era, and I nev­er for­get a set of earplugs.

Awe­some Guides
Gio­van­ni, Sebas­t­ian, and José are the best guides I have ever had the plea­sure of trav­el­ing with; Adven­ture Jour­neys spoiled us with these guys! Sebas­t­ian helped me with film­ing and being able to go ahead of the group to get the best pho­to van­tage points. Gio­van­ni is an ency­clo­pe­dia of infor­ma­tion about Ecuado­ri­an cul­ture and envi­ron­ment. He even met up with me in Quito weeks after the trip had end­ed to show me around his home­town. José was our dri­ver, but he was way more than that to all of us in the group. He is learn­ing Eng­lish, and is one of the most charis­mat­ic peo­ple you’ll ever meet. San­ti­a­go is an incred­i­ble free­d­iv­er in the Gala­pa­gos, so we had a lot of fun snor­kel­ing and div­ing around the archipelago.

Exot­ic Wildlife
The Gala­pa­gos arch­i­pel­ago has a stun­ning array of wildlife. Giant tor­tois­es are found only two places in the world, and see­ing these Juras­sic-look­ing crea­tures up close was a true dream of mine. I snorkeled with sea tur­tles, sea lions, sea hors­es, stingrays, pen­guins, and blue-foot­ed boo­bies. I gained a new­ly found love of lla­mas along the way too!

Trav­el Tips
When land­ing in Quito, keep in mind the air­port is about 45 min­utes to the city. If you’re on lay­over or have time to kill at the air­port, head to the inter­na­tion­al ter­mi­nal for a cof­fee from Juan Valdez Café (tell San­ti­a­go I said hel­lo!) and strong, free Wi-Fi. Also, lan­guages are a skill that con­tin­u­al­ly need to be used and per­fect­ed. I improved my Span­ish immense­ly on this trip. If you plan on doing some seri­ous pho­tog­ra­phy or video, pack a car­bon fiber tri­pod. They’re light­weight and sturdy!

Embark on your own Ecuador & Gala­pa­goes adven­ture with The Clymb.

The Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Net­work is a cer­ti­fied 501c3 non-prof­it that part­ners with con­ser­va­tion­ists around the globe to devel­op com­mu­ni­ty-based projects ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing wildlife and peo­ple co-exist. We’re pay­ing homage to the WCN, a non­prof­it doing excel­lent work in the field for over 15 years.

Steve Mandel cheetah pack

“WCN’s mis­sion is to pro­tect endan­gered species and pre­serve their nat­ur­al habi­tats by sup­port­ing entre­pre­neur­ial con­ser­va­tion­ists who pur­sue inno­v­a­tive strate­gies for peo­ple and wildlife to coex­ist and thrive.” The WCN does this by sup­port­ing its part­ners with the appro­pri­ate cap­i­tal and resources to help them ful­fill their goals, whether it’s mar­ket­ing, account­ing, fund­ing, or strate­gic plan­ning. Addi­tion­al­ly, by effi­cient­ly allo­cat­ing resources WCN is unique in the way it is able to work with local orga­ni­za­tions and apply aid where it is need­ed most. Steve Mandel Elephants Marching

Since its found­ing in 2002, the WCN has grown to be one of the most wide­ly rec­og­nized non­prof­its doing work with endan­gered species today. With an annu­al rev­enue of close to 10 mil­lion dol­lars, they’ve part­nered with hun­dreds of orga­ni­za­tions glob­al­ly, includ­ing the Save the Ele­phants char­i­ty and the Leonar­do DiCaprio Foun­da­tion. In addi­tion, they’ve suc­cess­ful­ly launched their own annu­al Wildlife Expo which hap­pens annu­al­ly, notable keynote speak­ers have includ­ed, Dr. Jane Goodall, Peter Matthiessen, and Dr. Greg Rasmussen.

Steve Mandel painted dog pack

“The Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Net­work’s rad­i­cal approach to con­ser­va­tion — send­ing 100% of every dol­lar to the field — has fun­da­men­tal­ly upped our game for our work to keep Kenya wild with ele­phants. Our joint Ele­phant Cri­sis Fund is now tak­ing that same con­cept and respond­ing to the mas­sive chal­lenge of the ivory cri­sis to ensure ele­phants will always roam wild and safe­ly across the entire African con­ti­nent.” — Frank Pope, Chief Oper­a­tions Offi­cer, Save the Elephants

Steve Mandel lion cub play

“Imag­ine a trail run or ride with no wildlife in it. A once in a life­time safari with no ele­phants or lions. A trek through the Andes with no clawed or pawed tracks in the trail in front of you. We can’t either. That’s why the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Net­work finds the best and the bright­est con­ser­va­tion heroes around the world who fight for endan­gered wildlife and ensure their mis­sion suc­cess: to keep wildlife in the wild.” — Jef­frey Par­rish, Vice Pres­i­dent for Con­ser­va­tion, Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Network


To learn more about the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Net­work or to get involved, check out their web­site here. All pho­tos tak­en by Steven Man­del, cour­tesy of WCN.

When the weath­er turns sour and the ama­teurs turn in, it’s time to break out your cam­era gear and get the shots that every­one else is miss­ing. Here are some quick tips for cap­tur­ing the most mem­o­rable pho­tos dur­ing the cold win­ter months.

Shoot Wildlife
Win­ter is one of the best times to cap­ture wildlife. Crowds in nation­al parks have slowed to a trick­le and the big guys (elk, deer, bison, moose) roam all day. Still it’s best to find you sub­jects dur­ing the gold­en hours (before 10am and after 3pm in the win­ter). Take advan­tage of bison in open prairies, and bugling elk just before the hunt­ing season.

Get a fil­ter if you can afford it
Get­ting some sort of fil­ter is the best thing you can do for your shoot­ing. A UV fil­ter will do won­ders to bal­ance the tones of your pho­tos and bring out the col­ors that may get washed out by bright con­trast. Even bet­ter, a cir­cu­lar polar­iz­ing fil­ter will allow you to decrease the glare of the sun on the snow, and make the skies much richer.

Keep it warm (and dry)
It often takes more than just a lit­tle per­sis­tence and willpow­er to get the best win­ter shots. And if you’re shoot­ing your friends hit­ting kick­ers all day, you’re usu­al­ly sit­ting on your ass wait­ing for a shot. Always pack plen­ty of hand­warm­ers with you not just for you but for your equip­ment as well. Your pho­tos, believe it or not, will def­i­nite­ly reflect your lev­el of stoke and if all you can think about is your soak­ing wet socks, you won’t be shoot­ing any­thing. Dress in lay­ers and warmer than you think you’ll need. Don’t for­get the rain gear, includ­ing ziploc bags if you need to keep your lens dry. If you do get some water on your glass, use the defroster in my car to dry my lenses.

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Learn this meter­ing trick
One trick on point and shoot cam­eras involves the cam­er­a’s auto meter func­tion. If a scene has a large con­trast between fore­ground and back­ground, snag a meter point from the bright area by point­ing the cam­era direct­ly at that part of the frame, say a snow-capped peak or a bright blue sky, then while still hold­ing the shut­ter-but­ton halfway down, frame the shot and take the pho­to. This will keep you from blow­ing out your skies or your bright, snowy foregrounds. 

Over­ex­pose your shots
Snow plays tricks on your cam­er­a’s meter­ing mak­ing it think it’s pro­cess­ing 18% grey. Always over­ex­pose your scenes either using meter­ing com­pen­sa­tion on your cam­era or using a high­er ISO. Most mod­ern cam­eras go all the way up to 3200 but 800 should be plen­ty fast in most cas­es. It sounds like overkill but a vibrant white moun­tain is more inter­est­ing than a dull, grey one and a high ISO gives you the free­dom to manip­u­late your set­tings freely.

photo by Derek Schroeder

Have fun with the aper­ture
Because there is so much light to work with, win­ter is the per­fect time to shoot every­thing from vibrant macro shots with a crisp con­trast, to the infa­mous star trails pho­tographs that real­ly con­nect you to the con­cept of star­ship earth. To exper­i­ment with star trails prac­tice com­posit­ing mul­ti­ple expo­sures tak­en over the course of a few hours. Or take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to shoot some soft water. Win­ter is a time to catch great sub­dued tones.

photo by Derek Schroeder

(pho­tos by Derek Schroeder)