Alaska Robotics

U.S. Forest Service Photography Rules

Thursday, September 25th 2014 by Pat

EDIT 9/26/2014 – I’m not going to delete my original post but my thoughts on this have evolved quite a bit in the past 24 hours. The short version is that the rules aren’t quite as draconian as news sources reported. A tidy summary of the rules available at WNCOutdoors.info.

smokey bearThere was a sensational headline in our newspaper today related to a U.S. Forest Service proposal which could create more strict permitting for photographers. As a filmmaker and occasional photographer who lives in the Tongass, a 17 million acre temperate rain forest, this would have an effect on me and many of my friends.

The article makes it seem like the Forest Service is coming after anyone snapping selfies with a tree in the background but the reality is that this will only impact commercial photographers. The problem I see is that many talented artists make a living from their work and it’s often quite meager. To lump in Mark Kelly with Indiana Jones (some scenes were shot at Yosemite!) is an appropriate compliment but wholly unfair in a commercial context.

Here is the public comment I sent to the Forest Service:

Hi, I’m a filmmaker from Southeast, Alaska and I ask that you rethink your rule on commercial photography.

I run a small studio, I work on small projects and I worry that you are about to create a situation where small studios and independent producers will not be able to participate while those with deep pockets and vast budgets will roam free. I fear they will be the only ones who can afford to capture images of our shared wilderness under this proposal.

Ansel Adams was a commercial photographer whose work you should know well. He loved nature and made a living by sharing the images he captured. You probably also know that without his photographs, we would probably not count Yosemite Valley among our parks. It was his commercial photography and heartfelt advocacy that was key to the expansion of our parks system.

I insist that you do not create a rule that will be a barrier to true artists whose work may be of a commercial nature but ultimately aligns with the ideals of our National Park system. Do not create barriers to photographers who seek to document and share the beauty of nature.

While we’re talking about artists whose work is of a commercial nature, why should visual artists be singled out? Why does this fee not apply to the many poets and writers who draw their inspiration and make their living from within our national parks? I hope that is a question that you can answer before you move forward with your process. If it is a matter of impact then charge fees based on relative impact to all users of the parks. A single commercial photographer observing the rules of a park does no more damage than a single hiker.

I will of course understand if you decide to create a special level of permitting hell for projects related to commercial advertisements and reality television.

All my best,
Pat Race
Juneau, AK

Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, claims that these regulations are required to implement The Wilderness Act of 1964. I think that’s a bit flimsy. In reading the document, it appears to me that commercial photography must be banned altogether or recognized, as it already is, as a proper recreational activity.

Commercial guides are allowed to help people find their way through the wilderness. Commercial photographers and artists help us to see, understand and appreciate these places from other important perspectives.

EDIT – Greg points out that I’m referring to the Park Service and the Forest Service interchangeably here and I shouldn’t. I hope my point comes through regardless, we need to protect small scale commercial use.

And to further lay bare my ignorance, a soothing walk through the issue by Carl Johnson complete with those decimal point number things that make me fall asleep.

3 Responses to “U.S. Forest Service Photography Rules”

  1. Greg Chaney says:

    Hi Pat, I like your comments. I wanted to point out that these are Forest Service regulations not Park Service. The Forest Service is run by the Department of Agriculture and views forests as tree farms waiting to be harvested (I’m not exaggerating). They operate from a perspective that public lands should be used commercially with recreation being a secondary concern. The National Park system is a completely different agency run by the Department of the Interior for conservation purposes. I’m not sure if that makes any difference for any of your points and I hope that they will listen.

    • Pat Race says:

      Thanks Greg, you’re right. I was using parks and the forest service interchangeably there and I shouldn’t have. I hope my points come through regardless.

  2. Bob Sylvester says:

    I think JEDC should also send a comment in support of small local business. I was reading the actual USFS handbook and it mentions fee waivers but I am not sure if your small biz would qualify. JEDC should have someone who knows how to read that stuff and decipher it. Regardless they should comment as the Economic Development arm of CBJ in support.

    This issue has been grossly misrepresented in the press and I hope your very legitimate concerns do not get lost in the kerfluffle.