Breaking the Twig

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Over the weekend while teaching a waterfall photography class, we hiked up the Cascade River State Park waterfall trail and came to the first waterfall. In previous years, the waterfall was framed in by two massive white cedars. It made for the perfect symmetrical shot. But, last year the tree on the left fell down and was swept towards Lake Superior. That created a new view of the waterfall that was obscured by twigs. Obscured enough that it was difficult to get a picture without getting a twig in your shot. At the time, I wondered how long it would take until photographers started breaking those twigs to make a better shot.

That question was answered this spring. Many twigs were broken. You can see several in the shot below. These were deliberately broken and opened up the view to the waterfall. While I can’t say for sure that it was a photographer, the twigs on both sides were broken in a way that opened up the perfect placement for a camera on a tripod.

broken twigs at Cascade River State Park

I’ve written about outdoor photography ethics before. You should read the entire article, but this is the summary:

  • Only take an action when your action’s impact and anyone else doing the same won’t inhibit the ability of the land to heal itself.
  • Consider the interests of others above your selfish needs.
  • Only act in a way that benefits the group. The group defined as everyone in a location. Further, the group defined as future visitors to that location.

Breaking a twig might not seem like a big deal. After all, it might open up a great shot. But, breaking that twig or tree or stick has larger consequences. One that you may or may not know about is that these little trees stabilize the edges of the cliffs. When killed, the roots decay and lose their grip on the soil which causes erosion. That erosion on the edge of the cliff can cause the soil to further undercut other trees and eventually the bank can go. Park managers make the decisions on whether or not a twig can be cut or tree removed or a view can be opened up. When they do so, they take erosion into account.

Plus, snapping live branches off of trees is most likely illegal to do on any public land. It is in state parks.

Not only that, but from a land ethics point of view doing this is unethical behavior. It is because if someone breaks a twig, he or she has potentially inhibited the ability of the land to heal itself. And by doing that, he or she degraded the land for future visitors for selfish needs while not acting to benefit everyone that visits that spot in the future.

But, hey, he or she got the shot. I hope it was worth it.

Cascade River State Park waterfall flowing at spring level


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  • Josh D.

    This is a good challenge and reminder. It seems like no big deal but even further consequences are if one person does it, the second comes along and repeats the action, and more after them. Suddenly, there’s much more than one twig broken and the consequences to land have increased.

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