Rutting Mule Deer Buck, Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado

I’ve become obsessed with this occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. Sagebrush Rebel terrorists decided to take a stand at a remote wildlife refuge to protest ranchers sent to prison for covering up mule deer poaching with arson, and are somehow trying to take back an 1800’s way of life that entitles them to use our western lands however they wish for free, because dammit, the Federal government has overreached and there is too much government, and they say this isn’t terrorism, but they’re heavily armed and willing to die. Or some such myopic nonsense. They have signs protesting the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), even though the land they’re occupying is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). American flags are draped all over the refuge, even though they’re protesting the Federal government. None of what they’re doing is constitutionally defensible or upheld in any way by the Supreme Court. It is simply domestic terrorism and these yahoos playing army give sustainable ranching a bad name.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is made up of over 500 refuges that offer unique and rare opportunities to view wildlife, recreate, and celebrate our natural heritage. The refuge system is part of a public lands network managed by the USFWS, the BLM, The US Forest Service, and the National Park Service. Roughly half of the land in the American West is public, millions of acres that every American owns the same deed of ownership to. As I watch this news cycle unfold, I see politicians posture to defend this sagebrush rebel idea that folks are somehow being persecuted by a system that won’t allow them to graze cattle, drill, and mine wherever they want. Here’s an idea: choose a different way of life. After prison.

Our public lands system is one of the best ideas we’ve ever had and is rare in the world. It’s too easy, simple-minded, and lazy to marginalize a place because of its remoteness – the very quality that makes it extraordinary. I’ve not been to Malheur, but most of my work is on public lands that won’t grace glossy calendars, places without the aura of our celebrated national parks. Places like Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, Siskadee NWR, Jack Morrow Hills, Adobe Town, Arapaho NWR, Cochetopa SWA, and so many other largely unknown lands in the west are refuge for the wildlife that we celebrate – it’s where we go for inspiration and solitude, to get lost in the grunt of rut, melody of meadowlark, call of the eagle, crane, and loon. This sagebrush rebellion won’t likely go away anytime soon; hell, Ronald Reagan called himself a sagebrush rebel; but this thuggery aimed at stealing our natural inheritance, robbing us of a chance to be inspired will not stand. We carry cameras and binoculars, support western communities, and we like our public lands just fine. Large unbroken expanses of western lands are the present and the future; our defense against climate change, extinction, and ignorance.

Abby, Goodbye With Love


Marla and Abby Above Fremont Lake Near Pinedale, WY, December, 2011

*Note: This post is different from my typical conservation messaging. It’s intended to help us grieve, heal, and celebrate Abby’s life.

She came to us on a west wind. With arrangements for a house visit, a lady from Safe Harbor Lab Rescue brought Abby to our home in December, 2006. This beautiful six year old yellow lab had a sweetness about her that was unmistakeable. The Safe Harbor Lab Rescue lady asked if we’d like to keep her for a night, we did, and it started snowing non-stop until three feet had piled up. That night turned into three nights; by then we were fully bonded with “Sunshine”, her name then. We picked her up at Pat and Kevin’s foster home, took care of paperwork at Safe Harbor, got her chip in case she got lost, and renamed her Abby. Abby The Labby, our first female. We soon discovered that she had a wild side and could run like the wind, like no lab I’ve ever seen. She’d pin her ears back and take off – after small birds, a rabbit, deer a half mile away. We worked with her to reign in some of that boundless energy and celebrated her spirit with every adventure. Marla taught her how to swim at Tucker lake, swimming out ten yards and cajoling Abby to join her, front paws slapping the water to a froth. She climbed seven fourteeners with us, shared our tent on backpacking trips, snuggling between our sleeping bags on chilly nights. When I’d get up to photograph, Abby would take over my down bag and nestle in with Marla until sun warmed the camp. She and Marla were running buddies too – early morning trail runs on all the local trails, best pals joined at the hip. Oftentimes, I’d be hiking along while they ran and Abby would come flying up to greet me, Marla right behind, smiles all around. Pat and Kevin, her foster parents, kindly watched Abby during our extended trips, a homecoming with Buck, Berit, and a host of other dogs. We never worried and are sure grateful for their friendship. Continue reading “Abby, Goodbye With Love”

The View From Above – On The Cover!

Roan Cliffs cover photo on the LightHawk annual report.

It’s exciting to see my photograph of the Roan Cliffs on the cover of LightHawk’s annual report! LightHawk is just a remarkable organization – skilled volunteer pilots flying conservation missions wherever they’re needed and a great, professional and accomodating staff always ready to plan the next mission. I’ve flown four LightHawk missions in just over a year to make images of the West from a landscape perspective. My first mission was featured here, and conservation pilot and photographer Chris Boyer was featured here. My Wyoming wind farm mission was on National Geographic Newswatch as an ILCP Tripods In The Sky mission and I flew over the “Two Sides Of The Roan” in July. Last month, I flew with LightHawk over the Absaroka-Beartooth Front as part of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and ILCP Tripods In The Mud partnership that was also featured in NG Newswatch as “Thunderstruck“.

It’s been quite a year, LightHawk and I’m proud to be a LightHawk partner. I look forward to being a featured speaker at the annual Fly-In in Boise next month and continuing our work to protect important places in the West. Thanks for all you do!

Dave’s New Conservation Blog!

Howdy! And welcome to my new weblog. This blogging business is all new to me and I hope to get the hang of it pretty soon. Right now it feels a bit like shouting into the dark.

I’m a Westerner and Western conservation photographer; so it makes sense to have a place to display images and talk about conservation in the American West. I’ll be blogging about my Sage Spirit project and work on the shortgrass prairie. In the continuum of conservation, we’ll probably have plenty to discuss to keep us busy for awhile. I’ll introduce places that many folks have never heard of, but are just as important as a National Park. I think I have a unique perspective of viewing the West through my lens, working with conservation leaders, and staying on top of conservation issues. I’ll be posting pretty pictures and some that aren’t so easy to look at – and hope to capture some funny stuff along the way as well. I’ll also post images when Marla and I take a big trip, sharing our sense of wonder and joy of discovery. It’s a work in progress and thanks for joining me on this journey.

Many thanks to Jack Brauer for making this weblog a reality!

The annual aspen fall color spectacle is winding down in the mountains and this image is one of my favorites from this season. The image is from Ohio Pass, west of Gunnison.