Online influencers shamed for their treatment of California poppy fields

woman in poppy field
Public Domain Unsplash

An Instagram account called Public Lands Hate You is calling out shoddy environmental stewardship.

Rainy weather in California this spring has resulted in magnificent poppy blooms throughout the mountains. Hillsides are carpeted with delicate orange flowers and the effect is breathtaking. Not surprisingly, this has drawn thousands of visitors wanting to capture the sight on camera, then post it on social media.

The problem, though, is that some people are being careless in their quest for the perfect Instagram shot. They're stepping off the trails, lying down in the poppy fields, and ripping out the flowers, roots and all, to pose for pictures. Not only does this harm the poppies, but it sets a terrible example for their many followers who may go out and try the same.

In response to this behavior, an Instagram account called Public Lands Hate You has taken on the responsibility of calling out these online influencers (and whatever sponsors might be involved) for shoddy environmental stewardship. The anonymous author, a 31-year-old man living in the U.S. Pacific Northwest who has visited every national park in the lower 48 states, reposts particularly reprehensible shots, adding "caustic commentary to images of destruction or carelessness" and hashtags like #yourmomlied and #yourenotspecial.

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Here we have six photos. These photos were posted for a combined 375,000 followers to see. All the "Influencers" in these photos appear to be trampling wild flowers. None of them said anything about proper wildflower behavior in their original posts. These photos shout "it's ok to go off trail and kill wildflowers for cool pics" to 375,000 people. Imagine the impact of just 1% of those people following in these "Influencers" footsteps. . . . 1% is 3,500 people wandering through the flowers, creating new trails, hindering the ability of the next generation of wild flowers from creating this beauty for the rest of us next year. These people should be using their influence for the greater good. Not this. . . . All of these "Influencers" have been informed that what they are doing is wrong. And yet, here are these pictures. Still up. Gathering likes. And suggesting that this kind of behavior is ok. I think I'm going to be sick. Share this with everyone you know who loves our public lands. We can make a difference together. . . . #forprofit #profitfirst #publiclandshateyou #protectourplaces #deathby1000cuts #disrespect #selfish #ignorance #peoplesuck #illegal #publiclands #superbloom #superbloom2019 #poppy #poppyfield #ourpubliclands #protectyourpubliclands #seesomethingsaysomething #wildflowers #wildflower #trampled #flowers #highimpact #leavenotrace

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Cited in the Guardian: "You have got these influencers who have access to 100,000 people. They are posting things that I don’t think they even think about what the impact of that picture could be. And there’s an exponential affect. People keep posting and posting and posting."

He also criticizes the use of Photoshop to create images that would harm nature or pose danger to inexperienced people, mainly because the viewers don't understand that Photoshop has been used and may try to recreate it.

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This picture, originally posted by @everchanginghorizon, has been shared all over social media. Many people have sent it my way. @hike.vibes recently reposted thispicture, and many of you commented on the @hike.vibes repost to say that this picture is sending the wrong message. @hike.vibes replied by saying “if you refer to the original post, this shot was actually taken on the trail. No flowers were harmed”. This is why I will continue to reiterate the following message. In pictures like this, it doesn’t matter if you’re on the trail or not. It doesn’t matter if you used good camera work or photoshop to make it look like you’re in the middle of the flowers. It doesn’t matter what your caption says. You know why? Because these pictures can, and likely will, be reposted and taken out of context. The repost by @hike.vibes is a prime example of that. @hike.vibes reposted the picture without the context provided by @everchanginghorizon in the original post. Now 100,000 people will see this picture without the original context, and it sure appears that the model in the picture had to go off trail to get the shot. When people try to replicate this shot, will they actually stay on the trail, or will they take the easy way out and bulldoze through the flowers to the most photogenic spot? How many people will follow the new “path” that was just blazed? Individuals, influencers, and companies that have platforms to broadcast to huge numbers of people have a responsibility to think about the impact their content will have. They need to be thinking "With this post, am I going to be sending thousands of new people to an ecologically sensitive area? Will all thosepeople treat this place with respect? Am I treating this place with respect?". Many accounts clearly are not considering these important factors. Their primary concern always seems to be, "How can I take the best shot, from the most unique angle, that willposition myself or my product in the most attractive way possible". Your digital footprints can turn into physical footprints. The before & after pictures of the Walker Canyon poppies a depressing illustration of that phenomenon. #actionsspeaklouderthanwords

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Instagram influencers wield a surprising amount of power when it comes to sending people to new places. Overnight, a remote vantage point can become a busy outlook clogged with traffic and lineups. As a result, there's some pressure on influencers not to use the geotag feature on posts, which allows people to pinpoint a precise location. But until the sponsor money dries up, the guy behind Public Lands Hate You doesn't think influencers are keen to listen. That's why his posts, with tags to sponsors, media outlets, the National Park Service, and the influencers themselves, may be the most effective way to stop the natural destruction right now. Public shaming, unfortunately, always seems to work.

This a valuable lesson for all, whether you're an influencer or not. There are a lot of us on this planet, and we cannot treat nature as if we are the sole humans on Earth. Always follow the 7 basic principles of Leave No Trace:

1.Travel on durable surfaces (in popular places avoid areas where impacts are just beginning)
2. Leave what you find
3. Be considerate of other visitors
4. Dispose of waste properly
5. Respect wildlife
6. Minimize campfire impacts
7. Plan ahead and prepare

Online influencers shamed for their treatment of California poppy fields
An Instagram account called Public Lands Hate You is calling out shoddy environmental stewardship.

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