Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Wildlife Photography: Dos and Don'ts

We've all seen some amazing shots of wildlife on the internet recently. From bears catching dinner in a stream to newborn deer napping in the grass, these photos of wild animals living their wild lives are incredible.

The popularity of amateur wildlife photography is on the increase and so to should be the discussion about the responsibilities involved when capturing images of wild animals. Here are a few tips on how to take great photos while acting responsibly, protecting wild animals and keeping yourself safe.

1) Do Plan Your Shot
Knowing the conditions in the area you are visiting, the types of animals you may run into, the seasonal behaviors of the animals you're trying to photograph, and the approximate time of sunrise/sunset can go a long way in getting you in the right spot to take an amazing wildlife photo. Planning ahead can be a huge component of getting a great picture!

2) Don't Harass the Wildlife
Keep a sufficient distance to the critters you are photographing. What is sufficient you ask? It should be a distance that is safe, respectful and your presence shouldn't be changing the behaviour of the wildlife. Are they looking at you? Time to reassess your distance; you may be too close.

(This applies even if they're little and "harmless".) Handling can increase stress, introduce foreign materials & disease, and make a wild animal miss a meal, a mating opportunity, etc. 

Photographing large animals like moose or bears? Use the rule of thumb: if you close one eye and hold your thumb out at arms length the animal should be completely covered by the thumb.

Avoid photographing animals at sensitive times if possible (mating season, nesting season, etc.)

Move slowly and quietly when around wildlife (unless you are in bear country and need to make your presence known for safety).

Never yell at wildlife to make it look at you for a photo.

Never feed wildlife to lure it closer for a photo.

Even when an animal makes little outward signs that your presence is making it uncomfortable repeated incursions into its personal space can add up. Try to appreciate the effects that large numbers of visitors over a period of time can have on the normal behavours of the wild animals they encounter.
  • Baby whales have been shown to surface to breathe less frequently when boats are close. This can add up and result in babies putting on less weight before their first winter migration.
  • Elk spend more time being vigilant when people are around leading to reduced foraging and a decrease in successful reproduction.
Please remember that "don't harass the wildlife" applies to photos/videos taken with drones as well. Studies have shown that wildlife are very aware of drones nearby and drone activity can have negative effects on wildlife including increased vigilance and avoidance.

Remember that drones are prohibited from launching, landing or being operated within designated wilderness areas.

3) Do Use Telephoto Lenses
A good telephoto lense can bring far away animals right up close while keeping everyone at a safe distance.

4) Don't Put Yourself in Danger
Every year people are injured and/or killed when they get too close to wild animals for a photo and are attacked. Animals don't know all you want is a picture and they may act aggressively to defend themselves and their territory.  If you're in a situation where you Stay a safe distance away from wild animals!

5) Do Plan on Spending Some Time Waiting
A good photo can take hours of waiting for just the right light, composition, and animals/animal behavior. Bring the items you need to wait comfortably and safely for that perfect shot to appear.

6) Don't Ignore the Little Guys
Macro photography can bring even the tiniest creatures into full frame splendor and help others see the beauty of the world on a microscopic level.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Annual Board Meeting Update

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, NV
Wilderness Volunteers Board Meeting: January, 2020

The annual meeting of the Board of Directors took place on January 19, 2020.  WV thanks and sends good wishes to two exiting Board members: President Caroline Williams, and Board member Pat Olsson.

Welcome to three new Board members: Steve Cole, Max Gordon, and Ross Holloway.  They joined recent Board additions Paul Kehrer and Gerry Norton who came on at the mid-year meeting in August, 2019.  

The Board now comprises a full complement of 10 members.  The Board's focus for the upcoming year is expanding the project leader pool and expanding the financial support in order to keep fees affordable for participants.

Monday, December 30, 2019

What's a Qualified Charitable Distribution?

Dear Wilderness Volunteer,

As mentioned in the WV November newsletter, Wilderness Volunteers is a 501(c)3 charitable organization and donations may be tax deductible. Unfortunately, since the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, many taxpayers no longer benefit from itemizing their deductions. An equally helpful alternative to making a charitable contribution may be a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD).

How QCDs work:
You must be 70 ½ or older in order to be eligible to make a QCD. You simply instruct your IRA trustee/custodian to make a distribution directly from your IRA (other than a SEP or SIMPLE IRA) to Wilderness Volunteers. The distribution must be one that would otherwise be taxable to you. You can exclude up to $100,000 of QCDs from your gross income each year. And, if you file a joint return, your spouse (if 70 ½ or older), can exclude an additional $100,000 of QCDs. Note: You do not get to deduct QCDs as a charitable contribution on your federal tax return – that would be double-dripping.

QCDs count towards satisfying your required minimum distributions (RMDs) that you would otherwise have to receive from your IRA – just as if you had received an actual distribution from the IRA. However, distributions that you receive from your IRA (including RMDs) and subsequently transfer to a charity cannot qualify as QCDs.

Important note: A QCD must be an otherwise taxable distribution from your IRA. If you have made nondeductible contributions, then normally each distribution carries with it a pro-rata amount of taxable and nontaxable dollars. However, a special rule applies to QCDs – the pro-rata rule is ignored, and your taxable dollars are treated as distributed first.

Why are QCDs important?
Without this special rule, taking a distribution from your IRA and donating the proceeds directly to Wilderness Volunteers would be a bit more cumbersome and possibly more expensive. You would request a distribution from the IRA and then make the contribution to Wilderness Volunteers yourself. You would include the distribution in your gross income and take a corresponding income-tax deduction for the charitable contribution. But, due to IRS limits, the additional tax from the distribution may be more than the charitable deduction. Furthermore, due to much higher standard deduction amounts ushered in by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in 2017, itemizing deductions may be become even less beneficial.

QCDs avoid all of this by providing an exclusion from income for the amount paid directly from your IRA custodian to Wilderness Volunteers – you do not report the IRA distribution in your gross income, and you do not take a deduction for the QCD.

You can make the QCD payable directly to Wilderness Volunteers, by asking your IRA custodian to make the check payable to the Wilderness Volunteers Endowment Fund and have the check mailed directly to:

Wilderness Volunteers
PO Box 22292
Flagstaff, AZ 86002

It is always a good idea to consult with your tax advisor if you have any questions regarding charitable contributions or QCDs.

Thank you,
Lee D. Cooper, CFP®, ChFC®
Treasurer, Wilderness Volunteers

2019 WV photo contest winners!

We'd like to announce the winners for the 2019 Wilderness Volunteers photo contest. We received a lot of great submissions this year and we want to take a second to thank everyone who participated this year.

Without further adieu...

Grand Prize 

Kui Kanthatham (@kui360 on Instagram). "Milky Way over Sawtooth Lake & Mount Regan"

Top prizes in each category:

On the trail / hard at work- Randy Meier. "Ansel Adams Wilderness"

Wildlife- Kathleen Worley. "Moraine Lake, Three Sisters Wilderness"

Wildflowers + trees- Greg "Coach" Allen. "King Range National Conservation Area"

Landscapes- Randy Kahn. "The Watchman and Virgin River"

Camp life- Amy Schwake. "Salmon River"

Congratulations to all of our winners! A huge thank you to our prize donors Keen Footwear, REI, Patagonia, & Liz Lemon.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Keep It Clean: On The Importance of Cleaning Your Gear

One of the most important (and likely most forgotten) parts of being a responsible outdoor adventurer is cleaning your gear before and after each adventure.

While exploring our nation's wild lands helps us gain appreciation for them it can also put them in added danger. Invasive weeds, insects, and diseases can be introduced to new areas via shoes, clothing, camping gear, boats, vehicles, firewood, etc.

You know it was fun if you get dirty!

Here are just a few examples of some invasive and destructive threats to our public lands that can be transported to new places by unwary travelers:

  • White Nose Syndrome (bats): a fungal disease, likely from Europe, that is killing millions of bats in North America. White Nose Syndrome can be transported from cave to cave by humans on shoes, clothing, or gear. 
  • Chytrid Fungus (amphibians): a fungal disease that has led to massive population declines and/or extinctions of various amphibian species. It can be transmitted in water or on wet or muddly footwear or gear. 
  • Rapid Ohia Death (Ohia Trees): a fungal disease that causes the quick death of native hawaiian Ohia trees. It can be transmitted through movement of infected firewood, or on clothing, shoes, gear, or equipment.
  • Ranavirus (amphibians, reptiles, and fish): a viral infection that has caused mass mortality events of amphibians and reptiles. It can be spread in water or on wet or muddy footwear or gear.
  • Didymo (waterways): a freshwater diatom native to cold regions of North America, northern Europe and Asia. Didymo can form thick mats and smother habitats for stream dwelling insects and fish. It can be spread on felt-sole wading boots, boats and gear.
  • Zebra Mussel (waterways): a small freshwater mussel native to Russia and Ukraine that has invaded numerous waterways across the eastern United States. They reproduce and colonize in large numbers, outcompeting native mussels, changing the water quality, and overwhelming waterways. They can be transmitted in water, on boats, and on waders/gear.
  • Non-native weeds (public lands): Introduced plants can radically alter native ecosystems by outcompeting and smothering native plants, removing native foods and habitats for wildlife, increasing soil erosion, and degrading aquatic waterways. Weeds can be unintentionally introduced to new areas on hiking boots, clothing, gear, etc. 

What you can do:

  • Clean your gear throroughly. Check and clean your gear before you leave for your next adventure and before you leave to come home. Remove seeds, burrs, mud, soil, and debris.
  • Disinfect your footwear. Use a small bottle with isopropyl alcohol or a 10-25% bleach solution and a cleaning brush. The disinfectant should take at least a minute to dry.
  • Wear gaiters. Wearing hiking gaiters can help keep seeds, burrs and plants out of your shoes and shoe laces and make cleaning your shoes easier.
  • Stay on trails. Staying on designated trails (and out of closed/fragile areas) helps prevent the spread of seeds/diseases away from untrammeled areas. 
  • Clean your bike tires. Remove mud, soil, rocks and debris from your tires before and after each ride. (Be sure to leave materials on site where they came from.)
  • Buy and use firewood locally. Fungi, insects, small critters, and other invasives can be transported in firewood. Buy or obtain firewood as close as possible to the place you need it and leave any left over firewood in the same area instead of taking it home.
  • Use weed-free hay. If you are taking horses/llamas/etc on the trail with you buy certified weed-free hay, feed, or straw to prevent invasive weed seeds or root fragments from colonizing new areas.
  • Make sure wet equipment dries completely before using it again. A variety of hitchhiking fungus, viruses, and pests can continue to live as long as their environment is wet. Be sure your equipment has enough time to dry completely between your adventures. 
  • Clean your boat. Clean plants, mud or debris off your boat/canoe/kayak before departing and drain it thoroughly. Dry your boat/canoe/kayak with towels and/or make sure it has enough time to dry between adventures (at least 5 days is recommended). 


Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Announcing the 2019 WV photo contest!

We're days away from wrapping up a successful 2019 project season— it's crazy how time flies! This also means that it's the magical time of year when we hold our annual Wilderness Volunteers photo contest. This year's grand prize includes a free Wilderness Volunteers project for the 2020 season on projects with an open spot.

Check out some gorgeous submissions from last year's contest.

Set aside some time, open that laptop or smartphone and enter your favorite WV project photos by clicking on the following links and uploading your selections to the WV SmugMug gallery in these categories:

Please be sure to add your last name, project and year to the file name of each photo before uploading them to the gallery. First . (eg. Northcutt_LyeBrook2019.jpg)

To view entries so far go to https://wildernessvolunteers.smugmug.com/Annual-Photo-Contest/2019-WV-Photo-Contest and click on the desired category.

One winner will be selected for each category as well as a grand prize winner for the best photo.

Grand Prize:

A gift certificate for a free Wilderness Volunteers project good for the 2020 project season

A final list of prizes for each category will be listed after Monday, November 11th.

You can enter as many photos as you like, just be sure to do so before the deadline of the end of day on Sunday, December 15, 2019!

Official Contest Rules:
  • All photos must be taken on a 2019 Wilderness Volunteers Project and subject matter must comply with Leave No Trace ethics & principles.

  • Each entry must include the photographer's name and the project it was taken on.

  • The same photo cannot be entered in more than one category. Judges reserve the right to switch images to other categories.

  • The contest is open to all 2019 WV project participants and leaders, except for Wilderness Volunteers staff, contest judges and their families. WV reserves the right to verify, in its sole judgment, entrant eligibility.

  • Photographs will be judged on originality, technical excellence, composition, overall impact, and artistic merit. Awards will be selected by a panel of judges, and all decisions are final.

  • Entries must be submitted to the Wilderness Volunteers photo gallery no later than 11:59 pm UTC on by Sunday, December 15th, 2019 to be eligible.

  • Judges may exclude entries that do not meet the above criteria.

  • Winners will be notified by email. Wilderness Volunteers is not responsible for lost or damaged prizes.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

INTERN BLOG SERIES: A Necessity Not My Own

by Alix Schoback // 2019 Wilderness Volunteers intern

“So you’re paying an organization to go do manual labor for a week? Shouldn’t they be paying you?” 
The words of my grandpa, who had been fairly confused about my summer internship with Wilderness Volunteers, echoed in my head. I sat on a rock beside the trail we were working on in the Sawtooth Wilderness; we were three miles from our destination of the wilderness boundary, and 5 miles from our camp at McGown Lakes. I looked out at the mountainside across from me, littered with dead trees — some strewn across the ground, some still upright — from a ten-year-old burn. My tool of choice for the day, a grubhoe, lay at my feet. 
It was the fourth day of our project, and I had already hiked nearly forty miles. In all honesty, I was exhausted. Consequently, I was frustrated with myself. This was supposed to be what I loved, what I cared about — work I considered to be of the utmost importance. Still, for a second, my grandpa’s words resonated with me. I felt the slightest sense of injustice, then shame for allowing the emotion to even enter my head.

I ate a handful of almonds, gulped down some water from my Nalgene, and proceeded down the trail with my grubhoe. For the next mile, I chopped at exposed roots with the hoe’s corner and scraped out drainages with its flat edge, reflecting all the while. I recalled how I had responded to my grandpa’s veiled criticism of this effort I cared about so deeply when he had first made the comment back in June. I silently reminded myself of every reason I was standing on the side of an Idaho mountain, hundreds of miles from home, my face smeared with dirt, hair unwashed, arms sunburnt and mosquito-bitten.

It came down to a necessity not my own.
Compared to the fields many of my peers are entering into — business, medicine, etc. — there is not much money to be found in conservation work. Federal and state departments entrusted with the protection of the public lands we love are severely underfunded, as our government remains preoccupied with domestic issues and international conflicts deemed more pressing. For this reason, nonprofits like Wilderness Volunteers exist. After applying to the organization’s internship, I had pored over its entire website, both impressed and humbled to learn that it functioned with only two paid employees and a dedicated group of volunteers. In the money- dominated world we live in, it was beautiful to see an effort toward bettering the planet driven by compassion instead of cash. 
Still, the failure of both government and private industry to adequately incentivize the safeguarding of natural resources presents a global dilemma. While altruism in the name of 
conservation is something I find inspiring, its reliance on human morality and compassion renders it flimsy. Human beings are fundamentally self-serving; the removedness from the outdoors that many of us experience as a byproduct of development thereby stymies most impetuses for wilderness stewardship. Put simply, it’s difficult to realize how important these spaces are until you fully experience them. How can we expect someone to care about climate change and pollution until they’ve seen its effects firsthand? How can we expect people to make an effort until they’ve seen a once kelly green forest devastated by wildfire, or learned about rare bird species dying of avian malaria? 

How can you connect deeply to an issue without knowing what’s at stake? 
If the industrial revolution, westward expansion, and numerous other historical moments are any indication of Americans’ moral compass regarding conservation, morality alone is insufficient. We need systemic incentives for conservation. This is, in no uncertain terms, a tall order. 
In this seeming impossibility, how do we still make progress? While striving for structural change, we must simultaneously shoulder the environmental morality that many of us are so estranged from. We recognize the importance of taking care of our homes — we tend to our gardens, do our dishes, dust, sweep, and vacuum. In the same way, we must normalize the care-taking of our home — maintaining trails, out-planting native species, assisting pollinators, reducing our carbon footprints, and creating less waste are just a few examples. In the adversity of achieving structural change, we must at least strive to normalize best practices until they are taken by all as givens. 
And, just as with household chores, we must do them for no reason other than that they must be done. While it may not always be found in the practice, the joy of it all lies in the purpose.
“And that’s why I’m here,” I thought. On this trail, on this mountain, in this state, in this country, on this inimitable planet Earth. 
I had not vocalized this thought process with such eloquence to my grandfather. I had stuttered and stumbled over my words — partly frustrated by the implication of his question, partly cognizant that my hope would likely be interpreted as naiveté.
But in that moment in the Sawtooths, I was entirely sure of myself.

I lifted my grubhoe, and aimed its sharp corner at the next root.


Alix is a senior at U.C. Berkeley where she is studying political science and environmental econonics and policy. Stay tuned for more blog posts about her summer internship experiences with Wilderness Volunteers!