Summer Winter

The Imperative of Ecosystems

By: Emily Stifler Wolfe

Charles Post was working as field research assistant on the remote South Fork Eel River in northern California when he first grasped the power of photography.

Among bear, elk, mountain lions, and 3,000-year-old redwoods, Post was helping renowned food web ecologists Dr. Mary Power and Dr. Sarah Kupferberg, study Foothill yellow legged frogs, which migrate from small mountain streams to the mainstem river to breed every year.

In addition to his work as a researcher, Post carried a camera to document their work, the scenery, and the wildlife he saw.

“Photography became a way for me to reflect on the places and people who were filling my mind and heart with meaning and purpose,” Post said.

Post spent the following four years documenting North America’s only fully aquatic songbird, the American dipper. That work shaped his graduate research at University of California, Berkeley, and eventually, he leaned into photography and film as a way to communicate the value of wild places and creatures to the general public.

Now based in Gallatin Gateway, 40 miles north of Big Sky, Post has published photos for National Geographic and Outside and through his consulting business has environmental marketing and brand strategy roles at Sitka Gear and HipCamp. He’s a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission and a Fellow at The Explorers Club.

Next, he and his wife, artist Rachel Pohl, are selling everything and moving to Norway, where Post dreams of going back to work as a bird researcher.

Q&A WITH CHARLES POST

What does the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem mean to you?

It’s one of the last remaining intact interconnected ecosystems in North America and one of the few on the planet. It’s a relic of what once was, and a reminder of what we’ve lost and how much we have to save. While I’m not focused on the Greater Yellowstone, a big part of my work is highlighting the importance of and our connection to ecosystems.

Why do you focus on that connection?

One way we can save ecosystems like the Greater Yellowstone is by engaging with people in their ecosystem around the basics of ecology, so they understand that there are still intact ecosystems as rich and diverse as this, and that there are upstream and downstream consequences for all ecosystems. It’s all about creating context, because most people will never go to the Greater Yellowstone, but they’re making decisions every day that impact it or the ecosystems in their community and watershed.

The ForeverProject is about committing to sustainable business practices that protect the environment, human health, and society. What does the word ‘sustainable’ mean to you?

Sustainability speaks to the inherent connection we have with the planet and the broader communities we’re part of—whether the decisions we make with our spending, the food we eat, or the organizations, people, and companies we support. But it’s also not really the metric we should be worried about. We’ve overdrawn the bank account. We need to focus on reinvestment and regeneration. How can we get the planet back in the green, as opposed to being in the deficit?

So, how do we get back in the green?

It’s all about small drops, and then over time and at scale, big things happen. I see sustainability as a starting place of having a meaningful relationship with the planet that will hopefully have a positive impact over time. There are so many ways for companies to do good. So many levers they can pull and push that didn’t exist in the past, or weren’t as widely known, vetted and available.

Let’s talk about your photography. Where did you take that bighorn sheep image?

That was an early spring day in Paradise Valley. I saw this band of rams marching along, so I pulled the car over safely and gave them ample space. I let them choose which way they wanted to go, and they kept walking toward me. As a field scientist, I learned that observation of wildlife exists up until their behavior is influenced, so as a photographer that’s my number one goal. How can I have this experience, take this image, have this observation, without influencing their behavior?

And the bison photo?

That was this epic day near Cooke City. We were parked in a pullout on the side of the road. There were two moose in the willows, and I was looking at a bighorn sheep on a little bluff when this bison came over the horizon. It was one of those moments you couldn’t expect, and yet it’s also a Montana moment. With all these healthy wildlife populations, things like that can happen.

Why did you want to work with Big Sky on the Swift Current 6 chairback photo project?

Big Sky is an important first touchpoint for visitors. This project gives them a chance to be reminded of or be exposed to the concept of an ecosystem. The plants and animals here are what make this place so amazing and unlike anywhere else. I remember watching Steve Irwin on TV as a kid and seeing National Geographics and being captivated by the videos and photos of wildlife. Who knows, maybe a young person sees those images on Swifty and wants to go a little further, go to Yellowstone, take a hike.

Find more of Charles Post’s work at charlespost.com. Read more about the Forever Project and the photographers involved in the Swift Current 6 chairlift chairbacks here