6 Photos by Charles Post that Define American Conservation

Charles Post has spent a lot of time outside, and for good reason.

He is a renowned ecologistenvironmental brand consultant, and filmmaker who has worked extensively across the American West, educating individuals on environmental issues. With a master’s degree in ecology from UC Berkley, his ability to make complex multi-faceted subjects digestible and understandable to a wider audience has made him a well-known figure in the conservation sphere.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Post is an innate storyteller, who shares his experiences and knowledge of the natural world through a variety of creative outlets including film and photography. His work examines a variety of often divisive topics including wild horse management and the reintroduction of native species on contested lands. Post’s clear-eyed but stirring portraits of these conservation issues led him to partner with brands and organizations including Filson, National Geographic, Outside Magazine, REI, Modern Huntsman, among many others.

Charles Post and his wife, artist Rachel Pohl, have visited Ranchlands several times over the years. We thought it was time to check-in and catch up with one of our favorite ecologists. With Charles’ extensive conservation experience, we posed him with this question:

“Throughout your photography career, which photos have defined your perspective on conservation in the American West?”

Here are his answers in his own words, and with his own photos:

Feral horses canter across a sun kissed basin in Nevada. By Charles Post.

Feral horses canter across a sun kissed basin in the heart of Nevada. It wasn’t until I joined a National Geographic project intent on documenting and disentangling the complex place mustangs hold in the American west did I realize that in many ways these feral horses are a reflection of  modern society’s moral conundrum: do we keep mustangs on the range simply for what they represent as tokens of American heritage or do we manage them as an introduced species that competes with native wildlife and in the process, if left unchecked, can degrade sensitive ecosystems? How must we balance the narratives of nature we sometimes coddle and the sometimes harsh truths of natural resource management in the modern age?

A lone bison bull in Yellowstone. By Charles Post.

A lone bull stands in the shadow of Yellowstone’s wild spring peaks. While it’s easy to peg the bison and Yellowstone as two sides of the same coin, in truth this plains bison would much prefer a life in the habitat that sustained him and his kin for millennia, the plains. Relegated to islands of refugia as progress tamed the grasslands, replacing prairie for development, the bison of today live where they can, and not necessarily where they’d like. It wasn’t until I moved to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem did I come to learn about this often overlooked thread in the modern bison’s existence.

A herd of bison at Ranchlands Zapata Ranch. By Charles Post.

Once a year, Ranchlands’ conservation herd of bison are rounded up to ensure that the herd will never exceed the carrying capacity of the land. These bison are wild by any measure, and live a life not too different that the one their ancestors would have lived before their persecution. After spending time alongside the Phillips family, I have come to know and appreciate this simple truth: put bison back on the land, and with a management strategy that mimics their high intensity, always on the move lifestyle of an era before fences and highways, the prairie can spring back to life.

Sam Bradford working cattle in the corrals at Ranchlands.

Spend a day alongside Sam and you’ll quickly learn the art of gentle pressure is always more effective than brute force. On this winter day, I also learned what synergy looks like. Sam and her horse work as an extension of one another. Notice the subtleties like her steady hands and her horse’s ears, which tell the story. 

A biologist handles a large raptor.

Conservation isn’t abstract. For autumn skies to continue to swell with the wings of migrating raptors, two hemispheres worth of stewards must dig in and work collaboratively. The fact that we still have thousands of raptors binding overwinter habitats in Central America with breeding territories in distant pockets of North America is a testament to the work being done in the field by passionate scientists young and old.

Cattle in the corrals at Chico Basin Ranch.

Ranching can be a tool to achieve marvelous stewardship outcomes. Yet these outcomes are often solely determined by those in the saddle, those operators making the decisions on the land about how it can best be taken care of – and not just with cattle in mind but the entire ecosystem: from the jackrabbits and quail to the cholla and dace minnow. The outcome of this commitment isn’t realized overnight. In truth, the real results are realized over generations. 

Portrait of Charles by Rachel Pohl.

What is Charles Post up to now? His latest endeavor is a soon to be launched Land Stewardship project with, Hipcamp. He is also working on his first book. The book will explore his first year living in nature and working as a field ecologist. You can keep up-to-date with all of Post’s projects on his website and at @charles_post.

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