As an individual or as a community, we are always being asked to do this or buy that to help the environment; and the list is long. Use reusable bags, buy reusable straws, clean up our neighborhoods, clean up our oceans, buy reef-friendly sunscreen, get a tune up, or better yet, buy hybrids or electric cars to help combat the effects of climate change. DO, DO, DO. What if you were asked NOT to do something instead and have it make a major difference in our natural world, would you consider it? When it comes to invasive species, that's exactly what you should do. This means, Do NOT buy plants that are not native to your region, do NOT release pets or plants into the environment, and do NOT spread seeds from invasive species to other natural areas. Pretty easy to do, right? Unfortunately, because people have made the choice to DO all of the above, we now have invasive species from all over the world outcompeting our native plants and animals causing major problems within our native ecosystems.
Above images are just a few examples of invasive species plaguing North America. Click on the caption for more information. There are literally thousands more. So what happened? How did all they get here?
For starters, terrestrial plants are often brought in by nurseries and sold to the public for private or commercial gardens. This is typically due to demand from gardeners. When they escape, there is usually nothing to keep them in check, like there is in their native territory, and they take over, displacing native plants. Is this a big deal? Oh you bet it is – A VERY BIG DEAL. These newcomers weren't supposed to be here, therefore, they are not compatible with the insects and birds that have been here for thousands of years and have co-evolved with species that supply them with the food and shelter they've always depended on. Here's where you do NOT support nurseries that fail to supply customers with native plants and who knowingly sell invasive species. That's easy, right? Check.
Next up is aquarium and terrarium species. This is a big one. We humans can be described as a water loving species, but we sure have a funny way of showing affection for something we use and enjoy as much as rivers, lakes and ponds. By purchasing, then releasing aquarium species or water garden plants into a waterbody, you are likely dooming several native populations. Red-eared sliders are a good example (see above). They are a mid-western species that becomes invasive outside of its native range. Once introduced to a pond or lake, this extremely aggressive turtle soon takes over and displaces native turtles. Since they are long-lived, impacts from a single release can be devastating.
Aquatic plants (and animal larvae) are transported from waterbody to waterbody mainly by boats and fishing tackle. If we clean, drain and dry our boats and rinse off tackle before heading to another waterbody, there would be no need for boat inspections at boat launches. Our rivers and lakes would be thriving instead of struggling with the introduction of Brazilian elodea, hydrilla, milfoil, quagga and zebra mussels, to name a (very) few.
Don't forget about those reptiles people simply must have in their homes until they are no longer convenient or the right fit for the household and are released. There are personal health issues including salmonella risk with these animals, but nothing compares to unimaginable havoc they wreak on our ecosystems. The Florida Everglades are facing one of the most devastating impacts an ecosystem has ever experienced in this country due to pythons being released into the wild. Let's not forget about the green iguanas taking over south Florida causing so much damage to gardens and landscapes that residents are now allowed to kill and eat them, as long as they kill them humanely. How can this even be a thing? Because people tend to make very bad decisions about how to dispose of pets and plants, instead they do what's easy, quick and inexpensive; open the back door or take a quick trip to the lake. What's the solution here? DON'T do it!
Lastly, if you make sure you or your landscaper (if you have one) ensure you are not transporting invasive species from one space with invasive species to one without, that would be huge! By rinsing mowers and checking shoes and pants for seeds, you have avoided a new infestation. Another easy fix.
Let's summarize: How do we begin to fix this mess we've gotten ourselves into? Since humans are a major part of the problem, humans must solve it. By now, some species like Japanese knotweed cannot be eradicated, pythons in the Everglades are probably here to stay as well, so professionals must manage these species. However, we can all stop bringing them into the country by not purchasing them. Simply stop buying them! Never, EVER release aquatic plants or animals into waterways, always surrender them to a pet store or donate them to a school. If you can't find a pet store who will take them, or a place to donate them, find a home for them on Craigslist or Facebook. Whatever you do, DON'T RELEASE THEM INTO THE WILD!
Of course there are aquatic invasive species coming in regularly from other countries in the ballast water of ships. The Great Lakes have seen at least 186 invasive species enter waterways in ballast water. Efforts to curb new infestations coming into the lakes are underway, but there remains a constant threat and a real concern, ask any Great Lakes resident.
So let's look at what you don't need to do again one more time:
• Don't buy invasive (or non-native) plants for your garden or animals for your house
• Don't release plants or animals into nature, they don't belong there
• Don't bring home any seeds on your clothes or shoes from a hike or even a friend's yard, or allow your landscaper to bring anything from another yard to yours.
Something you actually can and should do, is report any invasive species being sold in your local nurseries to your state Department of Agriculture immediately. That's just a phone call. You can do that, right?
See? By doing almost nothing (in this particular case), you're helping solve a major crisis in North America. Nice work!
Every February 5th, we celebrate our western population of monarch butterflies. They have a day set aside just for them, as it should be. What does western population of monarchs actually mean? Settle in for a quick lesson on monarch populations, migration and their status in North America.
There are three separate populations of monarch butterflies (all the same species):
First, there is the eastern population that is well-known for their epic migration from Mexico in the spring up through central and eastern United States and into Canada. After laying eggs across the country (up to five generations), the last generation (that has never been to Mexico) makes that incredible migration south to the oyamel fir forests in central Mexico. How they manage this, is still a mystery, but hopefully we'll find in the near future exactly how they accomplish this incredible journey. Unfortunately, overwintering sites in Mexico that support the eastern population has declined up to 95% since the 1990s, so this population is in big trouble. Not only is their migration threatened, but also their overwintering grounds in Mexico. A double threat. Update: The final population numbers are in from the overwintering sites in Mexico, and the numbers are down 53% from last year. Visit the MLMP website and read Karen Oberhauser's assessment of the situation. Also learn more about how you can help.
Second, there is the mostly non-migratory population in south Florida that sticks around all year. There isn't enough data to say for sure if they are 100% non-migratory, tagging data may indicate otherwise, but from what we know, they hang out in Florida all year.
Finally, there is the western population of monarchs. This population migrates from overwintering sites along the California coast in spring east to the Rocky Mountains. Again, several generations later, the last generation migrates in the fall back to the coast. Now for the bad news. The western monarch population is also in trouble. Big trouble. It would be nice to celebrate, uninhibited, our beloved orange and black butterfly, but we just can’t. Instead, we need to reflect on their critically low numbers (down 86% since the 2018 count) and figure out ways to help them. This is one of those, we made this mess, now let's clean it up scenarios.
Due to several factors, including habitat loss, pesticide use, loss of overwintering sites, climate change, and others (all created or exacerbated by humans), we are now faced with losing one of our most iconic insects. Last year, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation (Xerces), reported for the second year, historically low numbers of overwintering monarchs along the California coast. This data prompted a second call to action for western monarchs. This is really bad news. However, rather than stew and feel helpless, let's look ahead...
It's 2020, a new year, with new possibilities and a brighter outlook all around, so let's see if the collective "we" can help this species rather than watch it go extinct like so many other species we've said goodbye to in recent years.
Here's what we can all do:
First, plant milkweed. That's a big one. Just visit the Xerces seed finder website to locate seed vendors in your state or visit your local nursery and request native milkweeds.
Second, plant native flowers that are available to migrating monarchs in early spring and late fall. They need these vital food sources when they leave their overwintering sites and when they return to them.
Third, stop using chemicals such as round-up on your weeds. This kills many plants in its path and is terrible for not only monarchs, but other pollinators as well.
Fourth, protect overwintering sites in California. Without these sites, monarchs can't make it through the winter and therefore, cannot migrate in the spring.
Last, get involved! If you're a California resident, you can help Xerces by counting overwintering monarchs along the California coast. Just download the Monarch SOS app and go to Report, then select Xerces Western Monarch Count. You can also participate in the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper which allows you to report monarchs and milkweed throughout the year.
If we all do our part and help our western monarch populations, next year, there will hopefully be cause for celebration.
On a very sad note: Our hearts go out to the families of the slain monarch conservationists from Mexico, Homero Gomez Gonzalez, manager of the El Rosario butterfly sanctuary, and Raul Hernandez Romero, a tour guide at the sanctuary. Both were champions for monarchs and will be terribly missed by the entire monarch community as well as the monarchs that will undoubtedly suffer in their absence. May these fine men rest in peace and those responsible for these unspeakable acts be brought to justice.
We are already nearing the end of the first month of the new year, and just out of curiosity, how are those resolutions you made on New Year's Eve going? Thought so.
Year after year, many of us resolve to floss more, take those vitamins, sleep better, manage our stress better, become more positive, lose weight, lower our blood pressure, find happiness or become more focused at work. After about a month, we tend to fall back into those former, muuuuuch more comfortable habits that require a whole lot less work (and money) than a gym membership, a trip to a specialty vitamin store or investing in memory and boosting apps. What if you could tackle all of those resolutions and more with one very simple solution? Would you do it? What if it cost you nothing and gave you everything you need, plus a few surprise bonuses? Well there is one very simple, free, and believe it or not, fun, solution. GET OUTSIDE!
Although getting yourself outside won't help a much with flossing, that's on you, it does offer some pretty astounding health benefits. New research supports the idea that going outdoors and putting some distance between you and those incandescent or fluorescent lights you're sitting under, and shutting down that phone you can't stop staring at, is actually really good for your health! Harvard University says that research in a growing field called ectotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. The University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people across multiple countries to see whether nature really does provide a health boost, and the answer was a definitive, yes! The findings were pretty amazing. Researchers stated, "We found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increases sleep duration." Wow. Pretty amazing. In addition to all of that, "forest bathing,"(also known as shinrin-yoku), which is a slow, mindful walk through a forest has been shown to significantly reduce the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Just a 20 minute walk in the woods and you're a new guy or gal.
So it turns out that nature is about the closest thing to a happiness and wellness cure-all a person can find. It's a prescription with zero side effects and no copay. If you're feeling a bit tired and groggy, don't reach for that fourth cup of coffee or an energy drink at 2:00 p.m., step outside for some natural vitamin D (don't forget your sunscreen) and a breath of fresh air. Recovering from surgery? Head outside for your physical therapy, it will speed up your healing time and make you feel better both physically and mentally. If you need to stretch those legs and give your brain a break from work, grab a pair of binoculars and hit a nearby trail. You'll be amazed at how great you'll feel once you unplug and take a minute to look around. Also, learning new birds, plants, trees and animals in your area will help with your memory. Searching for a bird you can hear but not see will help you focus on something other than the frustrating day you're having and you'll feel yourself instantly decompress. It will also give you a feeling of satisfaction and success once you track it down, identify it and add it to the growing list of new things you've learned about nature. Don't forget to tell your friends all about it. Sharing nature with others is a big deal, and your friends will thank you for the healthy new lifestyle you've just introduced them to, no resolution needed.
If you've always thought nature exploration and enjoyment is only for those who "went to school for biology," you couldn't be more off the mark. Nature is here for everyone. It's like Santa dropped a massive gift on the world with a tag that said: To: everybody, From: Santa. That means everyone can participate and enjoy it in their own unique way. If you need a place to start, or a push in the right direction, contact a local organization that specializes in nature walks like the Audubon Society or a local, county, state or national park with docent-led walks. Once you start, you'll have a very difficult time stopping.
As humans, we have a biological need to connect with nature, and many of us are suffering from "Nature Deficit Disorder" by staying indoors and being bogged down by excessive screen time and over taxing our brains by multitasking. Why not break free of all that noise and try something new? Do your own experiment to see if you actually do feel better after a little forest bathing! See if you have unparalleled focus after spending time on a trail while bird or butterfly watching. The results may surprise you.
2020 can still be a great year, despite those already forgotten resolutions. If you're serious about getting healthy, both in your mind and body, the solution you seek is right outside your front door.
Your love life isn't the only thing mistletoe is good for; there are many animals that need it, and a possible surprise health benefit, too!
What exactly is Mistletoe?
Mistletoe is a seriously fascinating plant. There are over 1,300 species worldwide, 30 of which occur in North America and 20 or more that are endangered across the globe. To get a bit technical, mistletoe is an aerial flowering evergreen perennial, which means you will see it growing in trees rather than on the ground and throughout all four seasons. It's considered a hemiparasitic plant, because although it feeds off of the water and nutrients provided by a host tree or shrub, many species produce their own food through photosynthesis, making them only partially parasitic.
How does it parasitize trees and shrubs?
When a sticky mistletoe seed is either transported by an animal or deposited by a bird onto a limb, it waits for a good rain then gets busy producing a rootlike structure called a haustorium that penetrates the surface of its host. This structure is how it depletes or at least decreases the water and nutrients the host tree or shrub needs.
How can you spot mistletoe?
You can find at least one species in almost every state or province in North America. The best time to see it is in winter because, as mentioned, it is an evergreen and when leaves are absent, you can find these large masses more easily. You're looking for a large round ball of greenery attached to trees (see photo below). If you find these, then you are possibly in the presence of mistletoe! Mistletoe berries may be white as well as pink or red, so you aren't only looking for the all-too-familiar white ones. But remember, no matter what the color, don't snack on them, they may not be toxic to wildlife but are known to be quite toxic to humans.
Who benefits most from mistletoe?
Mistletoe isn't just for kissing (although that's a pretty fun way to use it!), it's a necessity for many mammals, birds, bees, butterflies and other insects as well. Mistletoe is the larval host plant (meaning eggs are laid on the leaves which feed the growing caterpillar) for at least one species of butterfly, the great purple hairstreak. Not only is this the food source for its caterpillars, but the toxicity from leaves passes on to the caterpillar and ultimately the adult and provides some protection from predators. Many other species of insects including one species of twig beetle, several thrips and mites also depend solely on mistletoe for their survival.
Mammals such as cattle, deer, elk, squirrels, chipmunks and porcupines rely on mistletoe leaves or berries, particularly when food sources are scarce in the fall and winter. Many of the smaller mammals also use the witches' broom for nesting and cover.
Numerous bird species benefit greatly from mistletoe because while the plant and its host are both alive, they feed on the sticky berries (this is also how the plant spreads) and use the large mass of vegetation, known as witches' brooms, for nesting sites and cover. To this point, researchers discovered that over 40 percent of spotted owl nests were associated with witches' brooms. Other birds known to use mistletoe for nesting include Cooper's hawks, chickadees, pygmy nuthatches, mourning doves and house wrens. Once the host tree dies, and the mistletoe along with it, many cavity nesting birds and small mammals move in, so the dead host tree creates high quality nesting habitat, which is a huge plus. According to the National Wildlife Federation, forests that have mistletoe may produce three times as many cavity nesting birds as forests lacking mistletoe.
What about people? Is there a benefit for humans other than exchanging kisses?
There certainly seems to be, and possibly an important one. According to Johns Hopkins and the National Cancer Institute, mistletoe is being tested in trials for use in numerous types of cancer treatment. According to Johns Hopkins, mistletoe injections are currently among the most widely used complementary cancer treatments in Europe. That's pretty amazing. One day we could be taking injections of mistletoe in lieu of chemotherapy. See? It is a very interesting plant and clearly not your average holiday greenery!
Happy holidays to everyone, now go kiss someone (with their consent, of course) under this epically cool aerial, hemiparasitic, potentially life-saving, evergreen perennial!
Bats protect us from mosquito-borne diseases, save farmers billions of dollars in pesticides AND give us tequila. What's not to like?
All Photos by: Merlin Tuttle of Merlin Tuttle Bat Conservation
October is the month we celebrate one of our most amazing yet misunderstood animals of the sky, bats. Bats should be celebrated every month of the year for the amazing benefits they selflessly afford us humans - no, seriously. Plus they're just nonthreatening and awesome to have around. Look at these guys, half of them look like your dog and the other half look like Yoda. What's scary here?
Obviously October is bat appreciation month because it's the month people tend think of bats as well as dress up like Dracula (if they have little to no imagination) and give bats an underserved bad name. Hopefully with a little education we can change that.
Maybe asking the obvious questions about why people fear or loathe bats is a good place to start. Let's look at the science and history and stop believing fear mongers who have no basis for believing or spreading misinformation about bats.
1) Do you fear bats because of rabies?
This is an easy one to address because it's a truly unfounded and unsubstantiated fear. Do you remember when your aunt got rabies? No? How about the lady down the street in your neighborhood? No? Your childhood best friend? Do you know anyone who has had rabies, better yet, do you know anyone who knows anyone who has had rabies? No, you don't, because it's so rare in North America that very few people can claim to know a single victim of rabies. Many of us know at least someone connected to 9/11, but almost no one knows a single person who has had or knows anyone who has had rabies. To drive this point home here is an excerpt from the CDC:
"Human rabies cases in the United States are rare, with only 1 to 3 cases reported annually. Twenty-three cases of human rabies have been reported in the United States in the past decade (2008-2017). Eight of these were contracted outside of the U.S. and its territories.
The number of human rabies deaths in the United States attributed to rabies has been steadily declining since the 1970’s thanks to animal control and vaccination programs, successful outreach programs, and the availability of modern rabies biologics. Dog rabies vaccination programs have halted the natural spread of rabies among domestic dogs, which are no longer considered a rabies reservoir in the United States. Nonetheless, each year around 60 to 70 dogs and more than 250 cats are reported rabid. Nearly all these animals were unvaccinated and became infected from rabid wildlife (such as bats, raccoons, and skunks)."
Merlin Tuttle, an ecologist and lifelong bat expert says the only thing you need to know when you are in the vicinity of a bat, particularly a down one, is don't touch it. That doesn't sound very difficult for most people. There's no risk if you've steered clear. Bats do fly occasionally during the day, but that doesn't mean they are rabid. If they are grounded during the day, use extra caution and contact animal control.
2) Do bats freak you out because they fly over your head at night?
Relax and sit back because they are just working the night shift so you can sleep better and stay healthy. They're keeping those nasty mosquito populations down so you don't get sick with Zika, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), dengue, chikungunya or yellow fever. They work at night because that's when the insects are out, so yes, they're flying overhead, but they aren't interested in you in the least, just eating the things that make you sick. As if this isn't enough, they are also keeping your food somewhat free of pesticides since farmers rely on bats to eat crop pests. This saves farmers between 3 and 57 billion dollars per year on pesticides because bats do the work for them for free. Thank you, bats.
3) Have you had a bat in your attic and now you can't sleep at night?
Bats don't want to move into your house to freak you out, they're just looking for a place to snooze. If you've had one in your attic or other crawl space, it's likely a young bat trying to figure things out. First, open a window (if you have one) and wait for them to find it and fly out. Once they've gone to forage in the evening, plug the hole (they can get into most holes greater than 1/2"), if that doesn't work, or you don't have a window to open, it is recommended you use a shoebox, a sturdy piece of cardboard and thick leather gloves. Think of how you would remove a spider from your house, similar technique. Bats aren't destructive, they won't rip the siding off your house or chew through wood to get into your attic, they'll move right along if there's no longer an entrance. Problem solved. Just make sure you remove them humanely and safely, because remember, bats are good.
4) Do you think the only good bat is a deceased one?
Well that's seriously too bad, especially if you eat bananas and mangos and drink tequila (probably not at the same time). Bats are not only exterminators of the sky but many are also responsible for exclusively or partially pollinating vital food crops as well as spreading seeds to new areas. The relationship between bats and agave plants is so strong that bat numbers fluctuate with the success of the agave plant. So when bats aren't around to pollinate those agave plants, and tequila is no longer around for those margaritas, we'll all wish we had shown a bit more respect for our friendly neighborhood bats.
Ways You Can Help Bats:
1) Keep dead or dying trees on your property if they don't pose any danger. These are roosting places for bats.
2) Put up bat houses on your property.
3) Stop using pesticides to kill insects, let bats do it for you. You will also be helping bees and butterflies!
4) Keep streams and water sources clean for bats and other wildlife to drink safely
5) Get involved! Find out if there are bat monitoring activities in your state. Some offer summer roost counting while others offer acoustic bat monitoring.
6) Never disturb bats, especially during hibernation. Steer clear of caves and roosts where bats hibernate so you don't stress them out causing them to use up their fat reserves before the winter is over.
7) Safely and humanely remove them from your home should they find a way in. Do as mentioned above and plug that hole so they don't keep revisiting.
So, are you still afraid of one of nature's most useful, harmless, not to mention adorable, animals? Hopefully you'll support bat conservation and pass on good information to others and stopping the cycle of bad bat rumors from continuing to spread.
How many times did Mom tell you to leave things better than you found them? It sounds easy enough, however, actually putting this into practice is a bit more challenging, especially when it comes to single use plastic and our abnormal dependence on it. Our planet doesn't need, nor can it support all of that unnecessary solid waste. Believe it or not, minor lifestyle changes and better choices made today - right now, in fact - WILL impact the planet tremendously and we will be leaving it in better shape than we found it.
Yes, let's DO talk about plastic straws!
If you've been out of the environmental news loop the past year or so, you may not have heard about the movement across North America to stop our excessive use of plastic straws. Most recently, Elizebeth Warren mentioned in a democratic debate that the conversation should not be about single use plastic straws (or lightbulbs or cheeseburgers), but about the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere by fossil fuel companies and others contributing to climate change. Sure, this is a monster issue, but it is also an apples and oranges conversation. Solid waste and air quality issues are, and should remain, separate.
So back to single use plastics and what every one of us can do to help with this crisis. Reducing the total volume of all plastic entering our waterways, clogging our landfills and ending up in our oceans is huge, and focusing on something as easy as straws to remove from the waste stream is perfect. Although straws may not be the biggest plastic issue we face, it has breathed life back into the single use conversation (recall the numerous plastic bag bans and reusable water bottle movement) and people are really thinking about it again. While many have attacked this campaign stating that it doesn't make a huge difference in overall plastic waste that ends up in landfills or the ocean (it does, actually), or that it is a distraction welcomed by the fossil fuel industry, this movement goes beyond any of those opinions and even beyond the endangered sea turtles that need straws removed from their nostrils, and the beach clean-ups that include volunteers picking up trash by the tons, much of it in the form of straws, from of our favorite summer basking or fishing spots. What is truly amazing and different about the straw movement, is the unbelievable attention (and subsequent action) this issue has garnered from the masses. Now people are refusing straws at restaurants, restaurants are replacing plastic straws with paper ones or offering metal or glass straws and so on. States like California (always leading the charge) are only allowing straws to be given to patrons who request them. How would you like to be "that guy"? No thank you! Los Angeles is considering going a step further and banning straws altogether. This is newsworthy and is being covered regularly. SO, do you still think those little plastic tubes you get in every fast food cup or in your complimentary water at a restaurant, or in your coffee to just stir your cream and sugar one time don't make a difference? A simple change in our behavior has sparked a movement, and it is a movement; it's a "thing" and it's amazing. By now many of us have significantly reduced (or eliminated altogether) our use of plastic bags and water bottles, then along comes plastic straws. Just think, those tiny, seemingly inconsequential straws may be a springboard to even more conscientious plastic waste reduction because it is again making us consider the uselessness of single use plastic.
Wildlife photography is a healthy hobby (or career) and is a great way to educate and excite people about the natural world from a safe distance, especially if they never intend to experience a day in the field themselves. The goal is always conservation, and how else do we expect non nature people to want to conserve it if they know nothing about it? That's where wildlife photographers come in. Providing breathtaking images of African and Asian mammals, birds from Costa Rica, or Marine Iguanas from the Galapagos Islands give people an experience they may never have in their lifetime. However, many images we see on people's social media sites were obtained by compromising the very thing we want to encourage people to protect, the animals.
Naturalists and protecters of wildlife (and native plants), have a responsibility to put the well being of the animals and plants we photograph before our desire to get "the money shot." National Geographic published a wonderful article on the subject, and it's truly on point if you've ever witnessed questionable photography ethics. Comment below if you have a story. A few of ours include: witnessing photographers flush birds from their rookeries to get stunning flight photos; watching photographers close in on stressed out snowy owls that have just arrived after an epic migration from the Arctic and are hungry and hypothermic; and knowing some who bait wildlife to get that perfect trail cam photo or video. These photographers are practicing poor ethical behavior. You won't lose Instagram followers if you practice ethical photography, you may even gain a few! According to National Geographic, you are crossing the line if you do not follow the guidelines outlined by their own photographers, which are:
1. Do no harm. This means do not alter habitat (cut branches or clear areas to get a better shot). Do not try and engage an animal to get the photo. Birds are naturally curious and will investigate YOU as well as look into your lens when they hear the shutter click, but if you notice an animal is showing signs of stress that's when you back off and remove yourself from their home. Be even more respectful during breeding and nesting season. This time is critical to animals, and being a distraction or threat can impact their ability to successfully breed.
2. Keep it wild. Feeding animals and getting them used to humans is almost always a death sentence for wild animals. This is where baiting for photos or feeding animals from your vehicle at parks applies. Yellowstone National Park even states that "a fed animal is a dead animal." Enough said. An exception to this rule is obviously bird feeders. However, it is the responsibility of a homeowner to always keep their feeders clean, and the food free from mold and mites to keep birds healthy.
3. Know the laws. Some laws have minimum distances that must be maintained from wildlife. Know the laws of the state and of the park you are visiting before going near wildlife. Using drones is almost always regulated near wildlife areas, so always check before bringing your drone along. National parks began prohibiting the use of drones by visitors in 2014. Some state parks still allow them, but the law varies from state to state.
4. Consider the captive. Avoid game farms where animals are kept in small enclosures or areas for the sole purpose of photography. Plan that trip to go see and photograph animals in their natural habitat. If you see them in the wild you know they are living their best life and not forced into a situation they had no control over. Never support zoos that have questionable practices or mistreat animals. Photographing animals for education that are being rehabilitated or are not able to be released back into the wild due to injury or nuisance issues doesn't cross that ethical line, which is a perfect segue into the last item below.
5. Caption with honesty. Be totally transparent about how your photo was made. If there is a back story, then tell it. If you took the image at a game farm, fess up. If you took the image at a zoo, tell your readers that as well. Telling your readers or Instagram followers how you took the shot and why you chose that particular place and technique will help you keep your ethics in check.
Wildlife photography ethics are tricky in some cases, but if you let your conscience be your guide and think about the time of year, watch for signs of stress that your presence may be causing and carefully consider where and how you are photographing an animal, you'll be fine and you will still get that money shot while sleeping a little better at night!