Montana Photographs, well, any outdoor, nature or wildlife photographs have the power to inform and to confuse or distract.
The American people love their public lands and depend on federal management agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for accurate information about those lands. Federal agencies would better serve the public if they selected photographs that tell a complete picture of government actions.
Strong imagery evokes strong reactions. Photographs of landscapes change the way people perceive the condition of our land. But photographs can also influence how we feel about how a land management agency like BLM does its job. I believe the BLM has a duty to show what’s really happening on public lands, not just high-grading images that paint a rosy picture.
Let’s look at some examples. In Montana, the BLM used mostly stunning montana photographs of the upper missouri river breaks national monument. You will see few photos illustrating the reality of the many ways natural resources are used and extracted in the upper missouri river breaks national monument. Do you see a jet boat roaring up the banks of the White Cliffs of the missouri river in his cover shot? No. Yet that’s what a visitor might find in this “wild and scenic” stretch of river.
Is the BLM being deceptive or do the people that choose the photographs just like pretty pictures?
On this BLM page there are six images in a rolling slideshow, one is of energy development, the rest are “ice cream” shots of landscapes and recreation. One might think the BLM in Montana and the Dakotas is really the National Park Service. The reality is quite different as oil and gas development is occurring rapidly across this region, bringing sweeping changes to the land.
By choosing beautiful images of the land and recreation to illustrate the lands it manages, is the BLM trying to improve it’s public image, or deceive the public?
Next, take a look at the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (UMRBNM) page. Again, if you just looked at the photographs, you’d think you were on the homepage of the National Wildlife Federation or the Sierra Club, not the BLM.
Finally, take a look at this page of montana photographs from the upper missouri river breaks national monument on the BLM’s website. Try to find a photograph of gas drilling, eroding ATV routes, two-track scars, or overgrazed riparian areas. These features are not hard to find on the ground, but are absent from the photographs.
To be fair, it’s not just the BLM. Popular media is also guilty. Here’s a quote from a 2011 Missoulian article about the UMRBNM ten years after President Clinton’s Proclamation:
Glenn Monahan has floated through the monument more than 100 times in the last 14 years. "I probably have as much observation time as just about anyone, including the BLM," Monahan said.
Monahan is not very happy with what he's seen along the river since the monument was designated.
"In my opinion, the BLM is pretty much still managing the river corridor for livestock grazing," he said. "I don't see them doing anything to reverse the damage that has been done."
Why only pretty pictures? Why not show us the challenges?
The BLM needs to do a much better job of showing the public the realities of how all of its management strategies show up on the landscape. What are they afraid of?
Professional Outdoor Photographer
East Glacier Park, MT
Tony Bynum is a Montana photographer specializing in montana photographs, outdoor commercial photography, wildlife, landscapes, and conservation photography. Visit www.tonybynum.com to see more of his images, he also blogs frequently on his site as well as at www.glacierparkphotographer.com. He can be reached at 406-450-8187.