Public lands fee plan goes way too far
You’ve taken some photographs in Mount Rainier National Park, thinking you might try to freelance them. Suddenly, a park ranger taps you on the shoulder and asks to see your permit. Have you paid the fee required of anyone engaged in commercial photography?
A Bush administration proposal nearing adoption could put a chilling effect on anyone filming or photographing in national parks, forests and wildlife refuges. That includes news organizations or freelancers trying to document problems on federal lands.
The Interior Department proposal being finalized now would require anyone engaging in commercial filming or photography on federal lands to get a permit and pay a fee. It would have only one exception: for journalists covering “breaking news.” Other than that, local land managers would have the final say on when licenses and fees would be required. If they don’t want coverage, for whatever reason, they could deny permission.
Even in advance of strict new regulations, some managers have gone overboard. At Yosemite National Park in California, for instance, managers can decide whether a project “would benefit” the park before granting a permit for photography. Are they likely to think a film crew documenting poor conditions at the park would provide a “benefit”?
In another instance, officials at Yellowstone National Park told a freelance reporter that she would need to get a permit, pay a fee and take out $1 million in liability insurance before she could enter the park for an interview. They later admitted they were wrong.
With more restrictive rules, such “mistakes” are more likely to happen. Many park administrators are more likely to err on the side of being restrictive rather than open.
Critics say this proposal modifies rules that were meant to apply to big Hollywood productions seeking permission to film on federal lands. It makes sense for managers to exert controls over those kinds of productions to ensure no damage is done and to mitigate for any problems they may cause for park visitors.
But extending those controls over news gatherers and smallscale commercial interests like freelancers is going too far. The national parks, forests and refuges belong to the American people. Restrictions on photographic access to these public treasures should be minimal.