NPS Rangers Still Hassling Photographers

Caribou Rack - Copyright Carolyn E. Wright

As far back as 2005, we have been reporting here about photographers being falsely told that they need a permit to take photographs in National Parks and on federal lands. In 2008, NANPA shared its attempts to clarify the laws on this. Unfortunately, the problem still remains.

Specifically, professional photographer, D. Robert Franz, reported on his negative experience this month:

My friend and I just returned from Devils Tower National Monument where we were nearly ticketed by a ranger for photographing without a permit.  At the time we were photographing prairie dogs from a road pull off where thousands of people photograph the prairie dogs every year. The ranger asked if I sell my photos to which I answered truthfully that I did. At that point he said I was in violation of the law and needed my ID and business name.  I told the ranger I was very aware of when a permit was required for still photography on public lands (even if the image may be sold) and that he was wrong.  He sure didn’t like that.  I’ve never seen a ranger more angry or threatening.  We then requested a visit to the superintendent but he was out of town.  We then asked to see the chief ranger and when he arrived the discussion continued.  I asked 3 times to see the regulations but they never showed them to us.  We saw them looking through the regs and then tear up the tickets.  But were told that we could do no more photography until the matter was resolved.  Basically we were told to leave.  I usually carry a copy of the law for these situations but had them in a different bag that I left home…

I [later] received a call from the chief ranger of D. T. He admitted I was correct and apologized for his rangers behavior and for his lack of understanding of the law. I thanked him but told him I would be following up on this situation with letters to his superiors, government officials and politicians. I will need a written apology from the initiating ranger and confirmation from the park superintendent that I was correct and acted in accordance of the law. The CR understood why I would pursue this further and had no ill will towards me. Reading between the lines it sounded as though his ranger received a sharp reprimand.

As the National Park Service’s regulations explain, still photographers only need a permit when:

1.      the activity takes place at location(s) where or when members of the public are generally not allowed; or

2.      the activity uses model(s), sets(s), or prop(s) that are not a part of the location’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities; or

3.      Park would incur additional administrative costs to monitor the activity.

So Robert’s taking photos of prairie dogs wouldn’t require a permit. It’s unfortunate that photographers must continue to fight for their rights. But kudos to Robert for knowing the law better than the rangers!

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