The Proposed USFS Photo Ban?!

Ansel Adams landscapeIt’s about to become enforced policy: it’s illegal to take photos in national parks and on federal lands without a $1500 permit. The fine for taking unauthorized pics will be $1000/photo. Even in the /cough/ Ansel Adams Wilderness area.

USFS says it’s to protect the forests. Sure, our parks have been under a lot of stress — illegal logging, water pollution, drifting air pollution, human-started fires have all taken a high toll. You know what’s not damaging parks? Digital and film recordings. Photography doesn’t ACTUALLY steal the soul, you know.

Note: Snopes says it’s for commercial photography, but the USFS wording says “still photography,” not specifically commercial. (It separately specifies commercial filming, which is pretty typical; most public places require a permit for commercial films.) So at minimum it’s fuzzy there. Not that this is any less stupid even if it were directed for commercial use; these days the primary difference between an amateur enthusiast and a commercial photographer is skill; they’re probably using similar equipment. And what about someone who takes a photo because she likes the view and later finds a commercial use for it?

So much for “take only photos, leave only footprints.”

USFS cannot specify a single instance of exactly how banning photography will preserve natural areas. I rather suspect it would have the opposite effect. And I said as much in my formal comment. As with many policy changes (the policy isn’t new, the proposed enforcement is), the government is accepting public feedback, so you can register a formal opinion.

Here’s what I wrote:

In an age before common photography, Americans found it hard to believe descriptions of the Rockies and other amazing natural features in their own country. Painters and photographers like Albert Bierstadt and later Ansel Adams were able to convince them of not only the truth, but of the need to preserve these natural gifts.

Today, when preserving our natural heritage is more important than ever, when Americans rely more than ever on the visual (television, Instagram, Pinterest, photo blogs), it is proposed that we “protect” our parks and resources by limiting photography.

Photos help us understand: I have photos from my own vacations documenting the recession of glaciers over several years. That gives me real evidence when talking about environmental stewardship and the need for conservation. How, exactly, would limiting the capture of electrons for a digital photo conserve the forest in any way?

Please reconsider this policy. The wilderness needs all the public sympathy it can get. Don’t stifle it.

See also and re the USFS photo ban.



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  1. As a Canadian my input will be disregarded but I was thinking along the same lines as you in your comment to them. I tweeted so my U.S. friends can respond.

  2. This boggles my mind. I…I just… I will DEFINITELY be commenting on this, but not until I scrape my jaw back up off the floor. Your comment is very eloquent and well-informed. :)

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