National park media regulations: what they are and why they go too far

Sierra Cymes

Sierra Cymes
Sierra Cymes

The National Forest Service has proposed a directive to fine commercial filming and photography in National Parks. Regular park visitors taking film and pictures do not need a permit. But there is money to be made in commercial media, and they can’t get anything more from the tourists except park fees. Making nature into a business is a terrible thing, and this is what the parks are doing with this new proposal.

Commercial fines apply anywhere there is a “congressionally designated area,” meaning Historic Landmarks, National Volcanic Monuments, National Historic Scenic Areas, National Recreation Areas, National Monuments … I could go on. Basically, all the cool areas where anyone would want to take pictures or film.


Being a journalist, my first concern is how this initiative will affect the journalism field. As it turns out, the program does not apply to news coverage or gathering information for a news program or documentary. And while this is good to hear, I want to know what makes news gathering equipment different from commercial equipment. It’s not like the trees know, so what is the point of fining one enterprise but not the other?

Of course: there’s not much money in news, but there is in commercial media.

This initiative is just a way to make money off nature. The National Forest Service does already take money from taxes and park fees for tourists, but this money is invested in the preservation and maintenance of the parks themselves. While these dues go to an honorable cause, a fair amount of these permits and fines will be sent to the U.S. Treasury and deposited as miscellaneous receipts. This means it could go anywhere.

I think the government noticed the amount of money being earned on their property, and so now they want a slice of the pie. What’s hard is that this ulterior motive is disguised beneath proposals of keeping the peace and tranquility of the parks. Yet regular news reporting can enter a park with the same equipment and film on the same earth without any cost.

These are outlandish false reasons to cover up the government’s real intentions of soaking up a little of that gold mine that comes from commercial photography.

When I look at the reasons for why they don’t want commercial photography on these sites, I think it is pretty much common sense.

The National Parks agency says doesn’t want any sort of motor equipment disturbing the habitat, or disrupt the public’s use and enjoyment of the site where the activity would occur.

Anyone who gets into the business of commercial photography of natural sites probably loves nature, so that person would not want to disturb the environment. Also, they have most likely been photographing or filming natural sites for a long time and have experience in setting up and taking down equipment without disturbing the peace. With all that said, I suppose it’s within the agency’s rights to remind businesses of this. But not with a massive fine for any photographs taken without a permit which also costs a small fortune.

Collegian Columnist Sierra Cymes can be reached at or on Twitter by @sierra_cymes.