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Quaker Valley grad uses hobby to help federal agency

| Wednesday, June 25, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Quaker Valley graduate Bob Wick ('81) captures an image of the California Coastal National Monument in northern CA for the Bureau of Land Management.
Quaker Valley graduate Bob Wick ('81) captures an image of the Carrizo Plain National Monument in California for the Bureau of Land Management.
Quaker Valley graduate Bob Wick ('81) captures an image of the Pony Express National Historic Trail in Wyoming for the Bureau of Land Management.
Quaker Valley graduate Bob Wick ('81) captures an image of the Handies Peak Wilderness Study Area in Colorado for the Bureau of Land Management.

Like many Americans who have taken up photography as a hobby, most of Bob Wick's photos don't turn out well.

Unlike the rest of us, the 10 percent of his roughly 80,000 photos that he does deem as being “good” may be described by some people as breathtaking.

Wick, a 1981 graduate of Quaker Valley now living in Sacramento, works as a wilderness specialist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency that protects public lands.

Although it was not the reason for his hiring, Wick's photography skills were noticed at the bureau and are put to good use.

“Just by the nature of my job, working for a federal agency, every once in a while a publication or a magazine would ask for a photo of areas that we managed,” Wick said.

Most of the land protected by the agency is in the western states, including about 70 percent of Nevada and 50 percent of Utah.

Wick's photos help to document federally protected property. He also photographs lands that are candidates for conservation through the Bureau.

“Those areas are really some crown jewels of the country,” Wick said. “They just don't get the attention that places like Yosemite would.”

As a government employee, Wick is not allowed to advocate more land being protected. But, with his work for the Bureau, he can call attention to the land through his photos so that the President and Congress can be better informed when making a decision on whether a specific area should be protected.

“The lands promote themselves,” Wick said. “I don't have to do any promotion.”

Wick's interest in photography started at a young age, while he was growing up in Sewickley.

“My dad loved to take photos,” Wick said. “He had a big collection of slides that he used to show the family from his younger years of traveling through Europe.”

Wick was always interested in the outdoors as well, raised in a family that often went camping on weekends.

This led him to pursue a forestry degree at Penn State before earning his master's degree at Virginia Tech. He accepted a job in Colorado with the Bureau of Land Management soon after finishing his graduate degree.

Despite the fact that the 245 million surface acres of public land administered by the agency is more than any other federal agency in America, the land remains largely unvisited by the public.

“Most of the national parks are where photographers typically go,” Wick said.

“The federal land that the BLM oversees is very vast and very unknown. It's kind of the last frontier of photography in the United States.”

Wick departed Saturday for his most recent photo trip for the Bureau of Land Management, a three-week trip to Alaska, where he expects to take more than 3,000 photos of areas including the North Slopes. Though he usually travels alone, it will take a full team to safely navigate the vast Alaskan frontier. “This trip might be the first one where I get tired, since it's light like 24 hours a day up on the north slopes,” Wick said.

“But I never get tired of doing it, especially sharing the images. I like the fact that I'm enabling people who never get to travel to these landscapes to really enjoy them.”

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or at 412-320-7923.

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