Project Planet

Some of America's wildest places are in our backyard

Stacey Lastoe, CNNPublished 26th August 2020
(CNN) — Neither a national park nor a national forest, a national wildlife refuge is kind of like the red-headed stepchild of national wildlife designations.
The parks get all the glory, but photographer, filmmaker and television host Ian Shive makes the case that there's no better time for people to discover America's refuges.
Thanks to Shive's forthcoming book: "Refuge: America's Wildest Places," the largest network of public lands and waters in the world will finally get some attention.

Create and protect

St. Paul Island, part of the  Pribilof Islands in Alaska: The northern fur seal lives in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
St. Paul Island, part of the Pribilof Islands in Alaska: The northern fur seal lives in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Ian Shive Photography/Earth Aware Editions
With a primary mission to create and protect habitat for wildlife, refuges exist in almost "every backyard in every state," Shive explains.
"Most people don't know that they're there," he says of the 560 refuges across the United States.
The book, a coffee table-like hardback with otherworldly photography, is visually arresting but also an educator about the wildest system in the country.
"The first thing is just recognizing and understanding the value of a system that is often overlooked because not all of it is going to potentially stay like that," Shive says, adding that some of the far-flung islands in the Pacific he visited are "under threat from the current administration."

Near and far

But lest you think you'll never encounter a refuge without getting on a plane or hiking through dense bush or over mountaintops, Shive assures that refuges can be found in the backyards of cities from San Diego to Philadelphia.
Ian Shive films laysan albatross (phoebastria immutabilis) with a juvenile at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, It's located on the far northern end of the Hawaiian archipelago in the North Pacific Ocean.
Ian Shive films laysan albatross (phoebastria immutabilis) with a juvenile at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, It's located on the far northern end of the Hawaiian archipelago in the North Pacific Ocean.
Ian Shive Photography/Earth Aware Editions
Shive covered a lot of ground over eight years to get the shots found in "Refuge."
It's true that some of the most picturesque look unfamiliar and distant, and Shive admits he's the first to professionally photograph some of the places. But dive a little deeper, and you'll discover refuges all around.
"...by the end of the book, you're in the city and you're in the urban environments and you're seeing where economic benefits are helping youth and young adults and economically challenged neighborhoods ... "
School groups and others go through the refuges and learn not just about wildlife and conservation, but also about related career paths, Shive says.
"A lot of the work is basic but important -- mending fences, restoring pathways and viewing platforms, cutting down old trees and undergrowth ... all the things that are critical to keeping a refuge in good shape and accessible to people. With 80 percent of people living in urban areas, this is a major stepping stone to connecting new generations to nature and conservation"
A Lockheed 18 Learstar that crashed in 1980  on Palmyra Atoll is now one with nature as the overgrown jungle and the erosion from the salty sea air overtake the machine.
A Lockheed 18 Learstar that crashed in 1980 on Palmyra Atoll is now one with nature as the overgrown jungle and the erosion from the salty sea air overtake the machine.
Ian Shive Photography/Earth Aware Editions
As more and more of us return to nature and actually using and enjoying our backyards, Shive is hopeful. While the book's creation began long before the Covid-19 pandemic, Shive says the word refuge itself has taken on a whole new meaning.
"Nature is still sort of the ultimate refuge."