iLCP Featured Fellow – David Showalter
iLCP Associate Fellow David Showalter is based in Colorado, USA, where he focuses on the grasslands, sagebrush, and alpine ecosystems of the American West.Dave’s new book, titled “Sage Spirit, The American West At A Crossroads” was published by Braided River Publishing in July, 2015. The NGO partners that Dave works with are Audubon Rockies, The Wilderness Society, and Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter. The book and outreach campaign covers the imperiled sagebrush ecosystem from Greater Yellowstone to southwest Colorado. His photographs and articles have appeared in Audubon, Wilderness, Outdoor Photographer, High Country News, Land and People, Outside, and elsewhere. Dave and his wife, Marla live in Arvada, Colorado where they’re planning the next adventure.
We got a chance to sit down with Dave and talk to him about his work and new things on the horizon!
- iLCP: What conservation issue are you most concerned with right now and why?
I’ve been primarily focused on the sagebrush ecosystem for the last 8 years – beauty, biodiversity, western values that are threatened by habitat fragmentation and loss to development that has led to alarming declines in wildlife populations. What we’re facing today is an assault on the value of our public lands, lands that each of us as Americans own a piece of, a deed you could say. Public lands threats aren’t new, just a continuation of the decades old “sagebrush rebellion” that’s become an organized movement to transfer federal lands to states for unchecked development. Our public lands in the west are one of the best ideas we’ve ever had, and without these lands wildlife and people will lose our freedom to roam. There’s a lot at stake, and as landowners, we need to let our representatives know that we value our public lands and they’re not for sale.
- What do you like best about being in the field?
I like all of it – whether collaborating with biologists and conservationists in the field to build a conservation story, or solo expeditions with clear objectives that almost always shift because nature is so dynamic. A lot of my work is in places that aren’t considered iconic by any means – yet there’s an important story, some wild connection to be flushed out through images. I love the process of discovery that happens in the field, both external and internal.
- What is your best scary/funny/inspiring story from the field?
On my first LightHawk flight for my Sage Spirit project, pilot Chris Boyer took the door off of his Cessna so I could have the ultimate aerial photography platform. But, I was way overdressed, got terribly nauseous and Chris kindly made an unscheduled landing so I could calm my unsettled stomach. We flew over Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin to photograph the Upper Hoback River that had been leased to become an industrial natural gas field. Ultimately, this extraordinary place is the southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem was saved from development because of intense pressure from a grassroots campaign called The Citizens For The Wyoming Range – the land was returned to the American people when the Trust For Public Land bought, and retired the gas leases. It was enormously gratifying to be a part of the campaign…and I don’t get sick on aerial missions any more.
- What value do you see in an organization like iLCP?
Frankly, I can’t imagine where we’d be without the iLCP. The iLCP Fellowship are incredibly talented photographers tackling enormous conservation issues, the voice of our one blue planet. In our hyper-visual world, images made with integrity and purpose have value – advocacy groups and media can turn to and trust the iLCP for photo expeditions and images that are ethically captured to support their campaigns.
- What makes a great conservation photographer?
Every great conservation photographer that I know is driven by a purpose, project, and vision that well exceeds personal needs. It takes a lot more than patience to tell a story that spans years, maybe even a career. There’s a certain selflessness, a pursuit of great imagery that tells a much bigger story, undaunted by failure, and resolve to be that voice for the planet – then collaborating to amplify our voices. A friend calls it purity of purpose. Many of our iLCP Fellow Photographers are personal heroes.
- Where in the world would you wish to photograph next, and why?
I’d like to follow the Green River from its headwaters in Wyoming’s Wind River Range to the confluence with the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park and build a project from there. The Colorado is North America’s most threatened river and somehow we have to find a way to keep our rivers flowing – for wildlife and people. Clearly western rivers will be facing increasing pressure from combined climate change and development, and hope for sustainability and healthy ecosystems is tied to these arteries that are the lifeblood of the west.