Searching For The Sage

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Strip of sagebrush in a sea of wheat, backed by Mount Adams. Near Richland, Washington.

Well into a ten day tour of eastern Washington with Audubon Washington, ED Gail Gatton and I set out at sunrise for agricultural lands, in search of a story-telling image. We climbed up a small rise on Badger Canyon road to a flat-topped plateau and into a sea of wheat. Gravel roads divide sections outfitted with center pivot sprinklers spraying water irrigated from the Columbia on wheat – much of it destined for China. I wanted to make an image of sagebrush in the ag lands, but could find none and our mission grew in futility. Then around a bend, a patch of sagebrush in a draw too steep to plow lay between wheat fields, with Mount Adams watching over this little piece of what once was all wild sagebrush. From here, a meadowlark sang a sweet melody – maybe there’s enough sage here for a meadowlark family. The trip was a combination of everything you could pack into conservation outreach – Greater Sage-grouse watching with Audubon supporters, planning for an upcoming songbird study, photography, presentations, all in eight towns over ten days. Continue reading “Searching For The Sage”

Bosque and Monte – Twin Refuges

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Sandhill cranes wade in shallow water before taking flight from roost. Bosque Del Apache NWR, New Mexico

refuge |ˈrefˌyo͞oj, -ˌyo͞oZH|
noun
a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble

Bosque Del Apache national Wildlife Refuge is known as one of our top birding locations for the thousands of sandhill cranes, ducks, snow geese and other waterfowl that winter here. The Rio Grande flows through it, riparian refuge in a parched landscape on the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. Long before it was designated by Congress, the Rio Grande ran wild, spilling over its banks during the summer monsoon, creating marshes and tall grasses that were refuge for migrating waterfowl. Today, the river is controlled and developed to its banks for much of its length, so we have to help the birds by recreating the flooded marshes that give waterfowl a place to roost and protection from predators. I remember my first morning standing on the observation deck that overlooks the wetlands; it was about 8 degrees fahrenheit with a slight breeze and folks were pouring in to the refuge for a spot on the observation deck and lining the banks, whispering in hushed, excited tones. It was freezing cold and exhilarating and I was completely unprepared for the explosion of tens of thousands of snow geese against a backdrop of a brilliant orange and blue sunrise. Each time I came back I was stunned, somehow not completely ready. Continue reading “Bosque and Monte – Twin Refuges”

Released!

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The Sage Spirit book has been released and is officially available from Braided River, daveshowalter.com, and at retail and online stores. When I started working with Braided River, Helen Cherullo described what we were about to do as “a process.” Helen knows because she and her staff have created ten books since she visualized Braided River as an imprint of Mountaineers Books. Braided River came about after Senator Barbara Boxer held up Sunhankar Banarshee’s book Seasons Of Life And Land on the Senate floor while making a passionate plea to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling. From that moment, Helen visualized two conservation photography books per year that would serve as a foundation for an advocacy campaign, a brand for important conservation issues. I’m proud to be a Braided River photographer and author and proud of what we’ve accomplished so far. The process of creating this book has taken over a year of intensive work with the amazingly talented Braided River staff, a stretch that I now view more as an education than work. With our partners Audubon Rockies, The Wilderness Society, and Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter, we aim to build a solid campaign with media, presentations, exhibits, and whatever else it takes to change the conversation and change direction in the Sagebrush Sea of the American West. Words can’t express my heartfelt thanks to Helen and wonderful folks at Braided River for working so hard to bring this story to life. Now, as Helen has reminded me, the real work begins.

Appalling Ignorance

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“The best way to protect the sage grouse or the prairie chickens is to sell it to someone.” “Is there a shortage of cows in our country? No, because someone owns cows.”

Senator and presidential (R) candidate Rand Paul speaking in Elko, Nevada

Greater Sage-grouse need habitat, sagebrush habitat, large unbroken expanses of good habitat with grasses, forbs, insects; a landscape free of disturbance. They are hard-wired to the sagebrush ecosystem and simply can’t survive without sage. Captive breeding programs haven’t been very successful – and relocating has mixed results – Sage-grouse and 350 other western species still need sagebrush habitat. The only way ranchers can “raise” sage-grouse is by protecting their habitat and we have a government program for those ranchers. It’s called the Sage Grouse Initiative and it’s a very successful government program. This noble bird of the American West has been here for 25 million years and we have a plan to recover the species. Deal with it.

To Yellowstone

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“Elk Antler Over Hellroaring Creek” Yellowstone National Park, WY

When the high mountains are still locked in winter’s icy grip, Yellowstone’s sagebrush hillsides, meadows, and ponderosa forests are buzzing with life. To move through Yellowstone is life-giving, so many powerful forces in motion in this dynamic landscape, new fawn, calf, owlet, cub; a time of renewal. We backpacked around the Hellroaring Creek drainage, then went to Bozeman, before finishing up with a week of (mostly video) photography. Yellowstone gives up her secrets in brief, astonishing moments. A wolf running full speed across the sage, grizzly sow with three cubs of the year, golden eagle gliding over the Lamar River, the SLAP of a beaver tail on Slough Creek. Some moments get photographed, most don’t, and that’s just fine. Time in Yellowstone is guaranteed to inspire. My photo essay follows Continue reading “To Yellowstone”

Camera Shy

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Camera Shy – a Greater Sage-grouse male displays on the wrong side of my camera. Sublette County, WY

A lighter side outtake from my Sage Spirit project: In 2010, I set up a DSLR camera with a Pocket Wizard remote trigger and wrapped the whole thing in sagebrush and camo on a lek (mating ground) south of Pinedale, Wyoming. The Sage-grouse were very active that morning and this particular male didn’t mind the camera, he was just on the wrong side. The idea here was to make a wide angle view of grouse on a lek, and although it didn’t work out…yet, there will be another try with a different setup next season. Greater Sage-grouse are a candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act, with a listing decision scheduled for September 30, 2015. With all the misinformation and ill-informed media attempts to divide, it would be easy to overlook great collaborative work happening in the West – folks from all sides are coming together to conserve habitat for Greater Sage-grouse and the suite of species who rely on unbroken sagebrush landscapes to thrive. It’s a central part of our story. In partnership with Audubon Rockies, The Wilderness Society, and The Sierra Club, Sage Spirit, The American West At A Crossroads will be published by Braided River in July of this year.

Sage Spirit Cover!

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Cover image of Sage Spirit – The American West At A Crossroads. The book and campaign will be launched with Braided River Publishing in July.

At last, the Sage Spirit book is in the homestretch and we’re planing our outreach campaign. Braided River Publishing is an amazing group of talented pros and we’re working hard to get this book published and share the story. None other than David Allen Sibley, Todd Wilkinson, Rick Bass, and biologist Pat Magee have made major contributions to the text. Always with something to say, I’ve written a fair amount too. We’ve included profiles of some important Westerners and can’t wait to share the story – Braided River and our major partners Audubon, The Wilderness Society, and the Sierra Club all have ambitious plans for the campaign. Together we can conserve and pass on a sustainable American West. Stay tuned!