A Photo is Worth 5,000 Acres

Dec 7, 2010
Outside Magazine

WHEN IT COMES to conservation campaigns, scientific evidence does little to sway public opinion. That's where the International League of Conservation Photographers comes in. Produce a photo of a polar bear cub frolicking in front of an oil derrick and the issue becomes tangible.

It works like this: The ILCP selects a threatened area and dispatches a Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE) team assembled from its 100-plus member photographers, who include Pulitzer Prize winner Jack Dykinga and World Press Photo Award winner Daniel Beltrá. They feed their images to a carefully cultivated network of media outlets, which appreciate being handed a story on a platter. To have maximum impact, the ILCP will distribute photos just prior to public-comment periods.

Using photos to highlight endangered landscapes is an old strategy, but there's never been this kind of organized, calculated effort to distribute images with such specific intent. Since its founding, in 2005, by photographer Cristina Goettsch Mittermeier, the ILCP has helped save 5,000 acres in Mexico and enforce a primate-hunting ban in Equatorial Guinea, among other successes. In 2010, the ILCP's annual budget grew to $1.7 million and the group launched four RAVEs, twice as many as any previous year. It also celebrated one of its biggest wins yet, a ban on fossil-fuel exploration in British Columbia's Flathead River Valley, spurred, in part, by a 2009 RAVE. The backdrop for B.C. premier Gordon Campbell's announcement of the ban? A photo of the river shot by ILCP photographer Garth Lenz.

"They say a picture is worth a thousand words," offers Sierra Club B.C. spokesperson Sarah Cox. "In the case of the Flathead, it was worth about 10,000."