Photographing Animal Migrations, the Heartbeat of Yellowstone | Nat Geo Live

Photographing Animal Migrations, the Heartbeat of Yellowstone | Nat Geo Live

Joe:My goal with this projectwas to make five or ten
really beautiful pictures.
Essentially, giving a voice to
these animals, a visual voice.
And it was this
picture right here
that I think, gets at the
essence of this migration.
She is on the move.( audience applause ) Arthur: Yellowstone was created
144 years ago. And it was created, originallyto protect these incredible
geological wonders.
The geysers, the canyons,
the waterfalls, the hotsprings.
But, since then we’ve
come to value Yellowstone just as much for its
incredible ecology.These large mammals,
in particular
that roam wildly
across the landscape.
They’re now virtually synonymous
with the word, “Yellowstone”.
But, at the same time, a look
back at these ancient sites in the Greater
Yellowstone Ecosystem suggests another
important untold story. And that’s what we’re here to
talk to you about tonight. Joe:This right here is a
drawing of an elk
made thousands of years
ago by Native Americans
at a site called Legend Rock south of the town of
Cody, Wyoming. There’s over 300
petroglyphs at this site. And most of which are
the hoofed animals. The pronghorn, the elk,
the deer, the moose, the sheep.And some of the tribesdidn’t call it “Yellowstone”,
after the rocks.
They actually called it
“Elk River”
after these hoofed animals.They knew something
that has taken us
a long time to figure out.And it’s these animals thatArthur and I have been focusing
on for about a decade.
For me, this journey started
on the great plains in South Dakota where I grew up.And it was those
geese right there
that really piqued my
interest in migration.
Fast forward to my early 20s there’s a pronghorn migration
that had just been mapped.There were over 400 pronghornthat were moving about 100 milesfrom the Upper Green River Basin
into Grand Teton National Park.
So of course, I was interested.I got on my computer
and Googled it. You know, pronghorn migration. I wanted to see what
it looked like. Well, it hadn’t
been photographed. So, I thought, “Wow, this is– this might be
my chance to be a photographer. Or at least to act like
a photographer.” And I applied for a grant so I
could follow this migration. Make the first
photographs of it. And I was awarded $3,000
bucks and I was set. So… ( audience laughter ) So, for two years I lived
in the back of my pick up.And my goal was to show the
beauty of this migration.
Show people what it looked like.What it was like to be
a migrating animal.
I started to get some of
the first photographs
of pronghorn migration,
showing them in places
where they can’t see far,
where they can’t run fast.
This picture right here,
is from mid-January
and they were stopped
by deep snow.
And it was around this
time that I realized that “Wow, if I’m there,
the pronghorn aren’t. And I need to start
using camera traps.”And it was a way
for me to document it
without disturbing them.This migration corridorthere’s evidence they’ve been
doing this for 6,000 years.
And I had to figure out exactly
the trails that they were using.
You know, down to a couple feet.So, that was backpacking
hundreds of miles
trying to figure out where I
was gonna put my camera traps.
So, I spent most of my time putting cameras at river
crossings and deep snow. That type of thing.This is a pronghorn buck
that didn’t make it.
For me, migration
equals wildness.
And I think this
photograph gets at that.
My goal with this
project was to make
five or ten really
beautiful pictures.
Essentially, giving a voice to
these animals, a visual voice.
And over the course
of those two years
I felt like I got that done.And it was this
picture right here
that really opened
that up for me.
The shadow on the rock,
the passing storm.
That entire two years was worth
this single moment in time.
She is on the move. And so, during that two
years, I was realizing thatwe’re having an impact and
this needs to be documented.
So, the housing developments,the fences that are
associated with them.
They’d burn up energy,every time they have to cross
something like a fence.
And some of them don’t make it.This fence has been retrofitted,
since that picture was made.
This is a famous place called
Trapper’s Point in 2008.
And this is the most
dangerous place along this pronghorn
migration corridor.There’s over a hundred
collisions every year.
It’s a dangerous place for
both, people and for wildlife.
But in 2012, the Wyoming
Department of Transportation
completed the first pronghorn
wildlife overpass.
This group of
pronghorn right here
is the first group
to cross it in 2012.
You can see 120 pronghorn…( audience applause )And then you can see,
one Mule Deer right there
that thinks it’s a pronghorn.
( laughs ) ( audience laughter ) And I’d like to think that
I had some small part in getting that done. And that’s really when
I started to believe in the power of
conservation photography.And luckily, out of the blue,
I get a call from Hall Sawyer
who is a researcher.Who is the first guy to study the pronghorn migration
corridor in the late 90s. And he called me up and said“Joe, I just made a discovery
on these Mule Deer.
I collared a small
group of Mule Deer.”
He thought they were resident
deer and to his surprise
they actually moved a
150 miles to the north.
Essentially linking
Southern Wyoming to the Greater
Yellowstone Ecosystem. This is an incredible discovery. He said, “Why don’t you come
back and photograph it?” So I said, “Well, sure. The…” ( audience laughter ) And the thing I realized
with these deer is that the pronghorn was
just the tip of the iceberg. There was so much more potential
in this world of migration.Of course, it’s longer than
the pronghorn corridor.
So of course, they’re crossing
highways, over 100 fences.
And some of them don’t make it.So, during that whole timeI kept hearing about this guy
doing elk migration work and studying elk and wolf
interaction up in Cody. I heard that even the game
wardens in the Cody office were calling him
the “Elk hippie”. ( audience laughter )And out of the blue, he
called me and he said
“Hey Joe, do you want to do a
project on elk migration?” And it brought us to right here. ( audience laughter ) Arthur: So, I’m sure most
of you know this. But, it doesn’t take much in
Wyoming to get called a hippie. ( audience laughter )I had never seen a
wolf or an elk.
When I started this work I–actually took me a
long time to admit that.
‘Cause, you know, showing up
in Cody, Wyoming and saying
“I’m here to help with
your wolves and elk
but I’ve never seen them”
is… not a good thing. ( audience laughter ) You tell them that
after you get the job. ( audience laughter )And so,
one of the things I learned
is why these
animals migrate.
This is a very important thing.Why do they migrate,
is to get fresh green grass. Grass is hard to digest,
you want the fresh green stuff. And it stays green longer,
up in the high mountains. And so, this is the
only chart you will see in this entire talk. But, it’s a very important one.And what you’re seeing on
the bottom on the X-axis
is the number of
days those animals are
off of the peak green.And so, as you go to the
left, they get to be fatter.
And there’s a lot of
fat involved here.
We’re going from ten percentall the way up to
20 percent body fat.
One of the first things
to notice is if they’re resident and blue if they don’t migrate,
they don’t get as fat. If they’re migratory,
they get fat.And so,
what does that fat mean?
It means calves,
it means productivity.
This is what allows
the wolf to recover
in the Greater Yellowstone.This is what sustains
that creature.
Allows us to sustain…
Recovery of grizzly bears.
Wildlife watching and tourism,
these migratory ungulates
by sustaining all of this are
a huge part of that economy.
There is an enormous economyfor the communities outside
the Greater Yellowstone.
When these animals are
out there of hunting
whether it be for
meat or for trophies. And that feeds enormously in tens and tens of
millions of dollars annually into these communities.So these migrations
are really important.
And so, these barriers
that Joe introduced you to
like these fences. These are things that constrain the ability of these
animals to gain that fat. And so that made me
want to know about it. My equivalent of wanting
to Google the pronghorn and not finding pictures,
was wanting to see a map of it.And there wasn’t one that
used the new technologies.
And so, my part of this work
was to set about doing that.
And so, we want to
show you the Cody herdand take you on that
journey that we took
to understand and
document this migration.
This is a population
of about 6,000 elk.
When there is enormous groups,
out on the foothills
and often on these
private lands.
And these private lands are
managed for many different uses
as well as adjacent
public lands.
And so, there are some conflicts
here for these wildlife.
Whether it be, a risk of disease
that they pose to livestock
or developments like residential
and energy developments
that impact the habitats of
these wintering animals.
Joe:So, as we move from the
ranches up into the mountains
twelve thousand feet peaksand these elk are going
over the top of them.
So, my job is to show
what that looks like.
And so, here’s one of our
first flights, actually.
This is from a helicopterjust showing how truly
incredible these elk are
these mountain elk.Arthur:This is at 11,500 feetand you can see the lead
cow in this group of 12
is trying to figure out where
they took a wrong turn.
( audience laughter ) Joe:So, right here in the
middle, there’s eight elk.
That just gives you
an idea of the scale
of some of the mountains that
these elk are going up.
So, my job is to get a camera
within two feet of those elk.
So here, we’re gonna
walk on that same path
and try to figure out where
these trails really are.
As you can see in this videothere’s actually a cut in the
rock that these elk have cut
over the thousands of years,
they’ve been on this trail.
Arthur:I work on these animals
with these collars
from a distance……a lot of the time,and one of the things
I wanted to do
just experience the
same migration myself.
And so, that’s what we did.Joe:So, showing these elk on
these high mountain passes.
The only problem is,
there’s a lot of bears
on these high mountain
passes as well.
So, a lot of my work
was repairing cameras
that were pushed down and
demolished by bear cubs,
like these guys.So, here’s Arthur and
I at that last spot.
elk calf that’s only a
couple of weeks old
and then she shows up.( audience laughter ) ( bear growling ) Joe:That’s not a good thing.But, with months of workand years of work
on this project
I started to get some video
footage that actually captured
you know, the numbers that
these elk are moving in.
I mean,
these are hundreds of elk
moving over one pass together.This is almost 12,000 feet.So, as we move from
the mountain passes down to the river crossing. The south fork of
the Shoshone river. It’s a place I spent
a lot of time at. This is a river that’s raging
with snowmelt.Super cold water.( music ) Arthur: So, the next part
of this migration, the challenge is to get up into the high country where
these elk spend the summer.And it’s very distant
and hard to get to
and so you cannot do
this without people
who know this
landscape intimately
and have been in it
since they were kids.
This is the place where the
snow and the rain and the sun
come together to make the grass
that feeds this creature
and feeds all this abundance.And so that’s what we encounterand spend time with up in
that high country,
is these great big summering
groups of elk.
What I set out to do in
the course of this work was to create this map,
a fuller pictureof the elk migrations of
the Greater Yellowstone.
And I want to show
you a completed
product from that effort.All these herds, making that
movement from winter ranges
in outlying areas of the system
up into the heart of it.
So what I see here is the veins
and arteries of this landscape. What you can imagine as you
think of these animals moving in and out and in and
back out, year after year is the pulse of this landscape. So, for me as a photographer,
how do you show that pulse or that heartbeat of a
system in a photograph?I found this spot early in 2014.This like, ten foot by
ten foot chunk of dirt
I knew all the elk
cross through.
And I worked it hard in
2014 and went back in 2015 and was gifted with
an amazing picture.And that one picture took
375 miles on horseback
two hundred and forty days that
that camera was out there.
And I got one split second,
this picture right here
that I think gets at the
essence of this migration. That calf is learning the
migration for the first time. It’s only a couple
of weeks old and I feel like this
picture is worth this entire project for me. Yeah. So. ( audience applause )

19 Replies to “Photographing Animal Migrations, the Heartbeat of Yellowstone | Nat Geo Live”

  1. I love this and I love that you showed the attitude of a bear seeing any sign of human, it shows their side and how they feel. Stand up for those without words.

  2. You forgot one thing !
    Seriously you better think when it blows it cork and you will have no migration
    Have you taken that in a study ?

  3. I love to see animals, most especially wild animals. I think our government will be serious about forestation to allow this animals come back.

  4. Saw all this out side of Yellowstone last may. Hundreds of pronghorn, and beautiful winter grazing lands for elk. As a Canadian, I was impressed by the conservation attempts and the shear number of animals I saw. I was heading to Utah, but Wyoming surprised me the most.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *