California is in the midst of a wildflower super bloom and, along with vast fields of poppies come unruly hordes of people. The small town of Lake Elsinore was overwhelmed by “Disneyland size crowds” of up to 50,000 tourists last weekend, resulting in traffic jams, accidents and unruly behavior. “#poppynightmare” as one town official put it. This kind of chaos risks placing these locations off limits to everyone, including photographers.
Things got so bad, including the injury of a city employee by a motorist in a hit-and-run accident, that the town had to close access to Walker Canyon, the main wildflower area, until they could bring in more help from the highway department and shuttle bus services. Facilities and parking areas were overwhelmed, with people parking illegally, including on nearby Interstate 15. During the closure, people ignored signs and instructions, drove off the roads and walked into hills anyway.
While some were there to simply enjoy the beauties of the super bloom, others were single-mindedly focused on getting their killer Instagram shot. There were many reports of people trampling through blankets of wildflowers. In one story, a local conservation official complained of people stepping on flowers, destroying the very blooms people had come to see. “People are nice,” he said, “except when they’re fighting about poppies.”
The story made news as far away as the UK, with an article appearing in The Guardian.
This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
We’ve reported on similar incidents before, and it looks like it’s only going to get worse. The problems with hordes of oblivious Instagrammers and tourists overcrowding and damaging fragile areas has gotten so bad that many photographers and even places that thrive on tourism, like Jackson Hole, have been encouraging photographers not to reveal locations.
If such incidents continue, there’s a very real chance that these areas may be closed to the public, including responsible photographers.
It’s a difficult balancing act. We can’t pretend social media doesn’t exist and we want to get more people interested in nature photography. So, how do you encourage people to visit spectacular displays of nature, so they can appreciate the natural world and become invested in preserving it while, at the same time, controlling crowds? How do you deal with lots of irresponsible behavior without penalizing those who follow the rules? Lake Elsinore’s trying to educate people to “preserve while you observe,” but it’s an uphill struggle.
At a minimum, we photographers should set a good example, follow the rules and practices NANPA’s Principles of Ethical Field Practice and the social media guidance from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. If we’re leading workshops, Meetup groups or talking to camera clubs, it’s an opportunity to encourage responsible, ethical behavior in others, to spread the word about treating Mother Nature with care and respect so these natural marvels will be there, not just for us but for our children and future generations to enjoy.