It would be no exaggeration to call David Herasimtschuk a local environmental champion. Working to restore, preserve, and raise awareness about Oregon’s scenic rivers and wildlife, the Corvallis-based still and short-film photographer has dedicated his livelihood to the cause. His breathtaking wildlife images have been featured in National Geographic, Nauticam, Astral, bioGraphic, and many other high-profile publications. In 2018, Herasimtschuk was named winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award for his work on the Behaviors of Amphibians and Reptiles by The National History Museum. And yes, David also fights for the rivers and wildlife right here in Corvallis.
“Over the years my love for rivers and the slimy and scaly critters that inhabit them has turned into a passion to help conserve them,” says Herasimtschuk on his professional website, davidheasimtschuk.com. “I hope that my work fosters a greater appreciation for these environments and supports the actions to help keep them free and wild.”
Partnering with Freshwater Illustrated, a nonprofit organization that allocates film and photography to spread public awareness about various freshwater issues and their direct environmental impact, Herasimtschuk aims to inspire local activism by urging Oregonians to explore nearby rivers. On Herasimtschuk’s website, categories of his work include River Life, Amphibians, Hellbenders, The Grand Canyon, Human Nature, and Ecosystems.
In River Life, for example, Herasimtschuk spans the globe from Oregon to Australia capturing world-class wildlife and underwater images. His local subjects include rough-skinned newts (pictured) and Pacific lamprey found in Oregon’s Willamette River, as well as large bull trout found in Oregon’s Metolius River. By taking a global and local approach to his work, Herasimtschuk aims to demonstrate the universal need for river conservation as a means of maintaining environmental order on both a micro and macro level.
In addition to his photography work with Freshwater Illustrated, Herasimtschuk also serves as a camera operator for the company, shooting footage for short films commissioned by The US Fish and Wildlife Service. Intended to encourage local river restoration and conservation, the short films range anywhere from roughly two to 16 minutes in length, and cover a wide array of environmental topics related to rivers, creeks, and streams. In Oregon, for example, Herasimtschuk filmed a four-minute short entitled Clackamas Complete, which highlights the integral role of the returning large bull trout to balance out the biodiversity needed for ecological stability in the area.
Herasimtschuk’s most recently released film work can be seen in March of the Newts, part of the Save the Salamanders Call to Action campaign.
“Our hope is that through photography and films we can help people see the value of these species and educate them on ways they can help to avert this potential salamander apocalypse,” Herasimtschuk tells The Advocate.
The near five-minute film focuses on the vital nature of salamanders as they relate to the health of forests in the Pacific Northwest. The integral amphibians, of which more than 300 species exist in North America, currently face ecological endangerment.
“As salamander numbers continue to decline worldwide, we believe education is one of our first lines of defense,” Herasimtschuk says. “This is especially true with the emergence of Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans or Bsal, a fungal pathogen that is fatal to many species of salamanders.”
Herasimtschuk continues: “The current spread of the Bsal is a major threat to the world’s salamander diversity, in much the same way that Chytrid fungus has devastated frog and toad populations worldwide. As Bsal decimates populations of salamanders in Europe, biologists and agencies are beginning to apply protective measures and preparations for the potential spread of Bsal in North America, where it has not yet been detected.”
While Bsal has yet to be found in North America, Herasimtschuk notes that “[t]his fungus is particularly worrisome in Oregon because it is fatal to many salamander species, including the commonly seen rough-skinned newt. For me, the rough skinned newt is one of the creatures that first come to mind when I think of Oregon or the Pacific Northwest. Similar to salmon, they are very much part of the fabric of these environments, so the idea of losing a species like that is a scary thought.”
Also intriguing is Freshwater Illustrated and Herasimtschuk’s newest endeavor, Hidden Rivers, a feature-length film set to premiere in Tennessee on April 4, 2019. The hope is for a Corvallis, May 2019 screening of the film, which showcases how Southern Appalachia’s “hidden underwater worlds support the planet’s richest temperate fish fauna, and are home to the highest diversity of freshwater mussels, snails, crayfish, and salamanders on the planet.” Visit Herasimtschuk’s website for further details.
All images courtesy of David Herasimtschuk © Freshwaters Illustrated. You can watch the March of the Newts at https://vimeo.com/288628617. For interested readers, Herasimtschuk also urges people to visit http://salamanderfungus.org to learn more about Bsal and discover ways everyone can help protect salamanders.
By Jake Dee