Instagram Influencers Are Destroying Public Lands

With the increase of user base on Instagram every year, influencers are a common trend in 2019. However, it causes a threat to public land environments because everyone wants to get the one perfect picture.Instagram is consistently growing every year, with around 1 Billion active users. Out of the one billion users, it is reported that 500,000 active influencers are operating on Instagram. According to Pixlee, Influencers can be defined as a “user on social media that has established credibility in a specific industry.”

These influencers, although merely trying to capture natural beauty, are destroying public lands. I had the chance to interview Public Lands Hate You (PLHY) , an Instagram account and website that highlights social responsibility when exploring the outdoors.In Southern California, the spring superbloom attracts tourists from across the country to witness this natural phenomenon. Although environmental conservation agencies attempt to  monitor trails, influencers continue to hike off the path to get the perfect Instagram shot. Although these small actions seems harmless, gradual erosion from an influx of visitors can destroy an entire landmark.  As this issue has intensified, some natural landmarks have started charging visitors for entry. When landmarks are only available to  paying visitors, the entry barrier for low-income folks is much higher. I interviewed PLHY about environmental destruction occurring in Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve and Walker Canyon due to an influx of visitors.

An Instagram post from @publiclandshateyou

1.) When was there a rise in super bloom visitors?

“The superbloom isn’t just in one park, but Walker Canyon and the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve seemed to take the brunt of the visitors.  I’m not sure the exact date that it became “instafamous”, but it was around the first week in March. On Sunday, March 17, it was estimated that 100,000 people visited Walker Canyon in one day. For comparison, the population of the nearby city of Lake Elsinore is 66,000.”

2.) Was there a correlation between the number of Instagram influencers posting about the super bloom and the number of overall super bloom visitors?

“Walker Canyon and Antelope Valley don’t really keep good numbers for visitors.  You would have to contact the land management agencies to get rough numbers.”

3.)  Why are Instagram posts creating a land conservation issue?

“The issue is that people are taking these pictures and not really thinking about the impact of their actions.  They are doing whatever it takes to get the perfect shot, even if it means laying in wildflowers, going into closed areas, and causing harm to our public lands.”

But you’re policing my art!”

As influencers continued to disregard conservation guidelines, Public Lands Hates You took it upon themselves to call out these “internet famous” travelers on their destructive habits. Many influencers objected, saying PLHY was “policing their art”. But the art these influencers are creating is on public lands, and if they continue to destroy natural environments, these spaces become inaccessible for future generations of travelers and conservationists.

Seconds build up to generations

It’s easy to think that the effects one traveler’s actions are negligible, but these small actions have enormous consequences. Hanging Lake is a beautiful waterfall in Colorado known for its popularity as a hiking destination . After the waterfall became “Instafamous”, the number of visitors increased from 78,000 in 2012 to 186,00 in 2018. After this increase in visitors led to graffiti and vandalism, The National Forest Service began charging $12 per person for entry. If this trend continues, more national parks and landmarks across the United States will charge entry fees and low-income will be systemically shut out from access to green spaces.

Destruction of Hanging Falls

4.) What education efforts are in place to inform visitors about land conservation efforts before they enter?

“Most public lands already have this information at trailheads and/or online, but people make a choice not to read the information or ignore it. I really think that people just get blinded by their need to have perfect pictures to share with people on social media.  Instead of enjoying these special places, they are only thinking about themselves and their pictures.”

5.) What tools/ laws  can be implemented to  preserve these public lands? How can folks get involved to conserve these public lands?

“The tools and laws are already in place, but people are either unaware of them or think that the rules don’t apply to them.  The real issue is that many of our land management agencies are underfunded and don’t have the resources to enforce the rules.  If people want to support the poppy fields or any public land, the best way to do that is to reach out to the land management agency that manages the public lands and ask what they can do.  Many public lands partner with conservation or volunteer groups, and they can always use an extra set of hands.”