Conservation Through the Lens
This photographer uses her beautiful shots to aid endangered and threatened species across the country.
I’m a woman on a mission. About 12 years ago, I started taking pictures of all the threatened and endangered species in Illinois—birds, insects, flowers and more.
It began because a local nature magazine sent out a wish list of images needed for a story, and I didn’t have many of them. After a little digging, I realized a lot on the list were threatened and endangered species, which I lacked in my photo library.
At that moment, I decided to find and photograph all of these species in Illinois—a whopping 483! I had no idea there were so many.
It seemed like a worthy goal to photograph these species and share them with organizations working to protect them. If those advocates had good photos of the flora and fauna they were trying to protect, it would be a great way to raise awareness. So on my regular photography outings, I slowly started checking species off my list.
In a good year, I’ll find and photograph 20 species. In a tough year, I might only get five. I thought flowers would be easiest, but they’ve proven to be a challenge because I have to coordinate bloom times, location and weather. Birds and insects aren’t much easier. You really have to be in the right place at the right time.
One of my greatest successes was the Hine’s emerald dragonfly. It took me three years to track down this critter. I knew where to find it, and visited the site every other week during its flight season. Finally, my persistence paid off and one of them flew right in front of me. It’s the rarest dragonfly in the United States, and I actually have a picture!
I’ve been thrilled to help out many organizations with their environmental efforts. Although I focus on species endangered and threatened in Illinois, many of those are in trouble across the country and the continent. Organizations as far away as California and Canada have used some of my photos.
Along the way, I ended up creating a nonprofit organization related to this work called Team Green Environmental Network. It focuses on helping people who use these photos for educational materials.
During this project, I’ve learned so much about species, habitats and how all of nature is connected. I’ve also been amazed to discover how many rare species are within half an hour of my house.
I now look at the species in my yard a little differently, and I hope I’ve helped others do this as well. Who knows what will be endangered next?