A question of photography ethics

  • A photo, L, in the Dec

    an. "National Wildlife" magazine by photographer Krasemann

It's been said that a fed bear is a dead bear. So it was ironic when National Wildlife, the glossy, bimonthly publication of the National Wildlife Federation, illustrated portions of an article on efforts to save grizzlies with three photos of grizzly bears that allegedly had been lured into the photographer's backyard with birdseed. The article, titled "Helping a Great Bear Hang On," ran in the December/January issue of the magazine.

According to a letter to the president of of the federation from Tim Manley, the state of Montana's grizzly bear specialist, the photographer, Stephen J. Krasemann, has been warned repeatedly not to feed the bears.

"Each of these photos," writes Manley, "was taken of grizzly bears that were knowingly baited to Mr. Krasemann's residence ... Krasemann knowingly habituated and food-conditioned those grizzly bears, despite repeated efforts on our part to get him to stop."

Manley, who works for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, says he spotted the photos when he was paging through the magazine and recognized the bears.

While the captions describe the location for the photos as the Flathead National Forest, Manley says they were taken on Krasemann's private land - which is surrounded by Flathead National Forest. There are no abandoned bird feeders in the forest, Manley says, only in Krasemann's back yard.

At issue, Manley says, is the fact that once a bear grows accustomed to getting its food from people, it becomes a nuisance - and then must be either killed or captured and relocated. He says that he knew of "10 different grizzly bears that Mr. Krasemann was feeding at his residence in order to photograph them."

Jay Gore, the grizzly bear recovery coordinator with the Forest Service, says he became aware of Krasemann's baiting techniques at a conference last fall, at which point he alerted his fellow Forest Service employees to avoid using the photographer's work.

Although the Missoula office of the National Wildlife Federation was aware of Manley's letter, the Virginia-based editors of the magazine didn't get the word until he contacted them. Sterling Miller, a bear biologist who works with the federation in Missoula, explains that there was little the editors could do, considering that Krasemann had not been forthcoming about the conditions under which his pictures were taken. Several photos by other photographers that accompany the article are labeled either "captive" or "controlled conditions," an indication that they were not taken in the wild. In a letter responding to Manley, NWF President Mark Van Putten writes, "All of us at the National Wildlife Federation are extremely chagrined to hear about Steve Krasemann using unethical practices to photograph grizzlies."

For his part, Krasemann has denied that he knowingly baited the bears. According to the statements he made to the Kalispell Daily Interlake, Krasemann spread grain around his property to attract elk and deer, not grizzlies. "The only way it could be considered baiting bears is in a long, roundabout way," he told the paper.

But the Forest Service's Gore maintains that Krasemann was warned. "I think if a reasonable person could assume that feeding bears led to their death, it would be against the Endangered Species Act. So, I don't think the guy can plead dumb. He was warned, and he knew what he was doing."

In a sad epilogue to the tale, Manley notes that a cub pictured in the photos was "illegally killed, largely due to his habituation to people. He died with a belly full of birdseed." Manley and Gore both also express concern the state will have to continue working through next summer to take care of other "problem" bears that visited the photographer's backyard.

Dan Oko is a freelance writer in Missoula, Montana.

You can ...

* see National Wildlife on line at nwf.org/natlwild/ or contact the National Wildlife Federation at 703/790-4000.

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