Remarks by Director Jamie Rappaport Clark at the: Nature's Best Photography Awards

It is great to be here this evening with all of you to share in this wonderful celebration. I must say, it is great to see so many conservation leaders and corporate environmental champions here to honor the best of the best in nature photography.

I'd like to hark back to something Jane Goodall said earlier in the video. She stressed how important nature photography is to on-the-ground conservation. This is so true. That is why, in '96, while I was hashing out the details to return wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem, I asked my husband, Jim, a nature photographer himself, to deliver a message at the first meeting of the North American Nature Photographer's Association. My messages was simply, "thank you." It was nature photographers like many of you and your beautiful and spiritual images of wolves in magazines, newspapers, and posters, that stimulated and held the public's imagination, opinion, and ultimately their support for wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies.

I am a true believer in the power of photography. Two years after wolves returned to Yellowstone, I was thrilled to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of the Fish and Wildlife Service with the North American Nature Photographers' Association. As part of that agreement, the Service and the Association are building nature photography blinds at National Wildlife Refuges throughout the country. Many of our 530 refuges offer unlimited opportunities for photographers to capture nature's best on film. And as the National Wildlife Refuge System prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2003, we hope to do even more through the medium of photography to highlight this most wonderful and unique assemblage of public lands -- the only Federal network of lands dedicated specifically to wildlife ---- the best wild lands in America.

Those of us who care about wildlife and wild lands are truly fortunate to have among our friends talented artists like the ones in our company tonight. Through images, they and many others have the power to stir the human soul. Photographs can transport people to a wild place, a place they might never get to know, but one that you can make them care about nonetheless. And that is becoming increasingly important as urban sprawl continues to quicken the pace of habitat loss. I've seen it for myself. Loudoun County, Virginia, where I live, is one of the fastest growing areas in the nation. When Jim and I moved there, our community was just 50 homes, with woods and rolling hills all around us. But in 7-years time, the neighborhood has been transformed from a rural, one-stoplight town to a still-growing suburb. We now have a highway where there used to be a two-lane road. We've got hundreds of new homes on land that used to be wonderful habitat for ovenbirds, woodcocks, and tree frogs. In our backyard, where fireflies used to fill the evening sky, we now have only a few flickers fading into the darkness.

This is happening all over the country. The result is that more and more people are becoming detached from the natural world. To paraphrase Aldo Leopold, there are two spiritual dangers in this detachment. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace. The danger is that people will start to answer the conservationist's call for action with the question: "Why should I care?"

That is why the photography is so important to the future of conservation. A photograph displayed at a city gallery or published in a coffee table book or popping up as a screen saver has the power to cut right through the apathy and touch the heart of even those who live right smack dab in the middle of high-rises and skyscrapers.

With our 15-month old son Carson, we are now seeing the natural world through a fresh set of eyes. He doesn't yet know or even care what species of flower or what animal he's looking at, but he does get excited about the amazing assortment of colors, shapes, and forms he sees outside every day. Carson loves the outdoors, but he also loves the colors of life in nature picture-books and in his father's photography.

Photographers shouldn't underestimate their influence. It is timeless. You can reach out across generations and impact a child. Who knows? Some day one of your images may even inspire a future conservation leader, a corporate environmental champion, or even a talented nature photographer. So for the sake of conservation's future, keep focusing public attention on the natural world. Take us to the places not all of us can get to, and stir our souls with your images of Nature's Best.

Thank you for all you do!!!