Hunter has seen incredible changes in the world and acknowledges that these are challenging times. Species have disappeared. Climate change looms like a storm on the horizon. Population growth and mass consumption have both put tremendous stress on our natural resources.
His travels — particularly to developing nations and places of intense poverty — have underscored how difficult it can be to think about conservation when you can’t even put a meal on the table. Desperate situations often lead to shortsighted solutions that threaten the environment.
One of his more poignant photographs depicts the golden toad, a few years before it went extinct. But for every horror story, he has a success story, as well — like the wood duck. The species was on the verge of extinction, but once people stopped overhunting it and started providing nest boxes, things turned around. Now, it’s doing great.
In Maine, Hunter has worked with a team at the Holt Research Forest near Bath to study forest management practices to maintain biodiversity. His findings are encouraging; their implementation is not.
“The good news is that it’s clear you can cut the forest in ways that produce timber and still sustain ecological integrity,” Hunter says. “(Unfortunately,) it isn’t always done that way, especially with the movement away from long-term forest owners. With that I’ve seen a lot of less-than-ideal forest management practices, in particular cutting the forest in very short rotations.”
Still, Hunter remains optimistic, in part because of the work he and his colleagues have done to protect the environment and convince others to do the same. For inspiration, all he has to do is look out his window at home, at the thriving forest that has risen from a former industrial site.
“I see signs all around me of how resilient nature can be, given half a chance,” Hunter says. “Any number of species once on the brink of extinction are doing very well now because we figured out how to give them a chance. It does take people making the right decisions. And often not acting in our own short-term, selfish interest is required.”
Image Description: Hunter photographed this golden toad in Monteverde, Coasta Rica, in the early 1980's. Several years later, the species went extinct.