iLCP Featured Fellow – Krista Schlyer
Krista Schlyer is an award-winning photographer and writer focusing on conservation, biodiversity and public lands. She has worked throughout North America, from the arid lands of the American West to the urban rivers of Washington DC, and is drawn to the cause of underdogs, prairie dogs, and all things wild. Schlyer is a Senior Fellow in the International League of Conservation Photographers and winner of the Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography, National Outdoor Book Award, and Vision Award from the North American Nature Photographers Association.
We got a chance to sit down with Krista and ask her about her work and new things planned ahead!
- What conservation issue are you most concerned with right now and why?
My greatest conservation concern relates to fragmentation of wildlife habitat and blockage of wildlife migration pathways. When habitats become unfavorable to wild species–either because there is too much competition for food, mates and territory, or because of climate conditions–they must move to survive. Competition is always bearing down on wild creatures and climate change is upon us. In some places droughts are increasing in severity; in others temperature shifts are making landscapes untenable for their native species; still other places are experiencing extreme weather events; and the list of climate chaos goes on. If wild species are going to survive the coming decades, and have any hope of escaping extinction, they will need open migration corridors between healthy habitat. But right now, human societies are erecting more and more barriers to their movement. In the United States, the current president vows to expand the US-Mexico border wall, a move that will very likely cause the extinction of the jaguar and jaguarundi within the United States. If this wall is completed along this entire border–which spans North America at the mid-point of the tropical and temperate zones–many species will face likely extinction over the next century. The United States is not the only nation pursuing this dangerous course. In 2015, 63 new international border walls were under construction worldwide. Never in human history has there been such a global effort to divide the landscape, and it will have dire consequences for global biodiversity.
- What do you like best about being in the field?
I love being in the field for the solitude and the escape from being in the biologically-impoverished, human-built environment. The field for me ranges from remote Sonoran Desert landscapes to the urban wild of Washington DC. While it would seem the wild places of the city would not offer much solitude, even a 600 acre park–if it is early morning and no-one in the city is yet stirring, and there is a foundational wild community–can be transformative.
- What is your best scary/funny/inspiring story from the field?
I have one memory I return to over and over when I am feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about where my work is headed. It happened in the Chihuahuan Desert, a grasslands spanning northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. I was out in a blind in the early morning, well before dawn. I had set up the blind to photograph prairie dogs in the Janos Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, in one of the largest remaining black-tailed prairie dog colonies left in North America. I had gotten to the blind so early that the prairie dogs were not yet out of their burrow, so I laid down on the ground to rest a bit. While I was lying there, one of my ears was near the ground and after a while I heard this little noise, a little chattering sound, coming from ground below the blind. I listened for a long time, realizing it was the prairie dogs, who must have had a tunnel or room of their burrow right below me. I don’t know what it was they were discussing, perhaps the thundering ruckus above their home, but it was clear they were having a conversation. Scientists have studied prairie dog communication extensively, and they are known to have one of the most sophisticated vocabularies of any mammal. So I sat there, listening to them hash out some debate in their living room, and suddenly it struck me more than ever what is at stake in our protection of the natural world. Everything we do as humans has consequences for the wild world–from the toilet paper we buy, the bag or bottle we use, the amount of food we eat or waste, the plants we plant in our yards. And while we are remaking their world, they are going on about the business of being a wild thing, many thousands upon thousands of species having their own conversations in their burrows or holes or caves or under the ocean surface. There is this whole world of living room conversations going on outside our view, beyond our hearing, and they depend on us getting our shit together. It was a beautiful, impactful and sobering moment that drives me to work harder every day.
- What value do you see in an organization like iLCP?
The iLCP as an organization has a powerful capacity to harness the efforts, passion and imagery of a worldwide network of photographers; to help support their individual efforts for conservation, but also to bring them together as a greater, more impactful whole. We are storytellers, helping to fit the disparate pieces of global ecology together in a story that helps the larger public understand, and more importantly, care enough to act in service of our planet. iLCP’s role as the convener of this group of passionate individuals, holds a tremendous potential for the future of conservation.
- What makes a great conservation photographer?
A great conservation photographer has a combination of passion, tenacity and commitment to both the future of the wild world, and the process of telling the right stories to the right audience. It isn’t just about taking beautiful photographs, or even ugly important photographs. It’s also about making sure those photographs get to the right audiences, and inspire those audiences to act. We are at a moment in human history where we have everything to lose, and everything to gain, and a conservation photographer has to be obsessed with helping people understand what is at stake, and giving them the tools to take meaningful steps in the right direction.
- Where in the world would you wish to photograph next, and why?
My next photographic endeavor will be the ocean. I will be moving onto a sailboat in two years time, and spending the better part of the years that follow under the ocean surface. I can’t wait!
For more from Krista, see our Conservation Photography Videos!