denali photography permits in jeopardy

Discussion in 'Nature' started by tom_walker|1, Dec 15, 2004.

  1. Below is the text of a letter sent last week to the Superintendent of
    Denali National Park from the Denali Access Workgroup of the Alaska
    Travel Industry Association. WE ONLY GET FIVE PERMITS A DAY NOW. If
    you think this is unfair let the travel group know

    December 6, 2004

    Superintendent Paul Anderson
    Denali National Park (DNP)
    P.O. Box 9
    Denali National Park, Alaska 99501

    Dear Superintendent Anderson:

    The Alaska Travel Industry Association Board of Directors have
    approved recommendations of the Denali Access Committee's (DAC)
    subcommittees on Photographer Permits and Tundra Wildlife Tours (TWT)
    and Visitor Transportation System (VTS) services. Those approved
    recommendations are attached for your review.

    The primary recommendations are these:

    Reduce the number of photographer permits from 550 to 200 for the
    2005 season, transferring the balance of 350 permit days to the TWT
    allocation. Initially set the total TWT allocations to the full 2,389
    used during the 2004 season.
    If photographer permits in whole or part can be transferred into TWT
    allocations without an Environmental Assessment, then additionally
    add those to the initial TWT allocation as well.

    The sooner the annual allocation can be set, the greater likely-hood
    all TWT permits can be used to the maximum benefit of the traveling

    In addition, the TWT and VTS tours should be evaluated collectively
    to raise efficiencies of the system for the benefit of all visitor
    types. DAC members are willing to offer assistance to improve the
    process and make it more efficient without disrupting the access for
    independent travelers. Additionally, the DAC is pleased to assist
    DNP staff in improving the Denali Natural History Tours and expand
    potential opportunities to see and enjoy the DNP from locations other
    than the main Park road.

    ATIA looks forward to hearing back from you on these very important
    Programs that dramatically impact Alaska tourism.


    Ron Peck
    President & COO

    alaska Travel Industry Association Board of Directors
  2. I guess I don't know enough about those permits to comment.

    Your post gives the impression that they would stop everyone from bringing in their cameras and tripods. This isn't the case is it? If I go hiking or camping in Denali, I can still take pictures, right?

    So the permits must give you some extra privileges.

    What extra privileges do you get with those permits? How much do they cost? Who gets them? (Only the photography tour groups?) Is there a lottery? Is there a URL that explains the current system of allocation and benefits for the photography permits?

    Why would the Alaska Travel Industry be against photographers? I would think that photographers have become a significantly larger source of tourism revenues the last few years. Maybe if the photography permits are mixed into the larger TWT allocation, some of the previous TWT permits would go to photography so that there could actually be more photography permits allocated? Or would there be some benefits lost by operating under a TWT?

    Again, your post might (or might not) be a little misleading. Please fill us in with more info.


  3. Tom, thanks for the heads up. You say if we think this is unfair we should let the travel group know ? do you think it is effective to be writing to the travel group (ATIA)? I?m thinking it would be more effective to write directly to the Superintendent, as it seems like most the travel groups make it no secret they would rather have more buses for the backcountry lodge development. Second, hopefully it isn?t too late as December 6, 2004 has past.

    Bob, the permit grants the ability to drive a personal vehicle into the park 12 days a summer. You do have to qualify and pay, I believe I paid $250 last year when I renewed. Then there it is a lottery process among the qualified applicants. Paying the $250 does not assure you of getting any days even under the current system.
  4. Thanks for the clarification.

    What are the criteria for qualifying for the permits? You have to be a professional, or at least a semi-professional, I assume. If so, what (or who) determines who is and isn't a professional?

    Even though I'm not a professional, I appreciate how tough it is to make a living at nature photography. I would support any efforts helping professional photographers practice their craft.

  5. I found a bit of background info on the NPS website. First, it's the policy of the NPS to allow photography among all visitors, and no special fees or permits are required, as long as they are going places and doing things that would otherwise be permitted if they weren't carrying a camera.
    See The NPS Management Policies, chapter 8. Scroll down to 8.6.6
    The National Park Service will encourage filming and photography when it will promote the protection and public enjoyment of park resources, provided that the activity does not violate the criteria listed in section 8.2.
    Filming and photography activities that do not necessarily promote the protection and public enjoyment of parks, but which meet the section 8.2 criteria, will also be permitted. ... Permits and Fees
    A permit will be required for any filming or photography that (1) involves the use of a model, set, or prop; (2) requires entry into a closed area; or (3) requires access to the park after normal visiting hours.
    A permit will not be required for a visitor using a camera and/ or a recording device for his/ her own personal use within normal visitation areas and hours.
    Second, in Denali National Park, they have a special "Professional Photographer's / Artists Program" that allows published professional photographers to take a private vehicle on roads where private vehicles are ordinarily prohibited. This special access program does require a permit. To qualify, you must provide proof of at least 24 published photographs within the past year. At least 5 of the 24 must be sold or printed in a publication(s) with a circulation over 250,000, as listed in the most recent edition of Photographers' Market published by Writer's Digest Books. There's a $100.00 application fee, plus an additional permit fee of $150.00 if you are selected to receive a permit. There is a lottery for permits. More info is on The Denali NP page
  6. At issue is whether photographers who do not want to ride the bus system and who are are too lazy to carry their equipment from where they leave the bus to the next photo op should be allowed to drive their own vehicles in the park. As a 50-some year old Alaskan who backpacks large format and 35mm telephoto gear, I have no sympathy for out-of-shape outsiders whose "love for nature" requires that they make a flying drive in and out to get their images without any physical exertion. The park service does not need to promote Denali; it is already over-visited. IMHO, there should be NO driving permits issued. If you can't carry your gear on your own two legs, you should stick to fashion photography.
  7. JOhn, i agree that denali is rather over visited. But isn't that a good thing? I am from oregon(our coast, and columbia gorge are the 3 most visited place on the westcoast) and i know what its like to have lots of tourists. But for a place like denali thats a great thing. I do think that visitors who are visiting for just seeing it should take busses, if anyhting it makes things easier for them. However, saying that people are too lazy if they drive their cars to their shooting point? So you're saying that you walk from the park gates? Photography is something that can only educate, and at this point the world would do a little good by being educated about the world, especially beautiful places like denali. I understand being protective of our respective beautiful places, butit only needs to go so far.
  8. "However, saying that people are too lazy if they drive their cars to their shooting point? So you're saying that you walk from the park gates?"
    No, he's saying that some people are too lazy to pack their gear from where the buss will drop them off. It's the same road as the one the permit allows pro photographers to access with their personal vehicles, but using the bus is far more arduous. It's quite difficult to do a multi-day photo shoot with just the stuff you can pack on the bus, but as John points out, it can be done.
    But the issue from Tom's point of view is that the tourist business group is being greedy. Since pro photographers generally don't use as many of their services as the Tundra Tours groupies, they want to redirect some/all of the pro photographers user days to people that would benifit the tour businesses more.
    A very similar issue exists with professional and private rafters on the Grand Canyon and other highly used rivers. The professionals get a much higher percentage of user days alocated than private boaters, because there is less revenue generated by private boaters. These are both political issues and money talks.
  9. Thanks Tom. The issue is a bit more complicated than John describes. First of all, the
    park has two bus systems. There are shuttle buses which provide transportation to
    anyone using the park, and there are Tundra Tour buses which are an expensive tour
    which caters more to the hotels around the park. Note that the shuttle buses aren't being
    increased; only the Tundra Tour buses are being considered. A Tundra Tour now costs
    $94/adult. Multiply that by 40 people/day. It's not difficult to see why they want to keep
    increasing the number of Tundra Tour buses. With each increase, there is more wear and
    tear on the road, and there is an increasing need to provide more service facilities (toilets!)
    to benefit a commercial enterprise.

    There are very strict regulations against approaching large animals or nesting birds in the
    park. It is not legal to approach bears or other large animals on foot. The buses are not
    allowed to drop off people near a large animal that is near the road. The buses also do
    not run at all ours of the day, and frequently the best times to photograph animals is in
    the very early morning or late evening (and in Alaska during the summer, that means
    between the hours of 10 PM and 4 AM are the often the optimum times)

    For what it's worth, Tom is one of those people who does hike long distances from the
    road to pursue his photography. Tom's been photographing in the park for many years.
    His images grace numerous books, calendars, and magazines, and not only do they
    promote the park, they also provide millions of people a glimpse into the lives of animals
    and promote conservation of wildlife everywhere (not just in Denali).
  10. Well Mr. Lehman, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, and if you don't feel the Park Service should offer any advantages to photographers, that is fine.

    What I don't care for is your belittling characterization of photographers who utilize the permit system. Putting down those you disagree with may make you feel good, and possibly boast your ego, but comments like that offer nothing to an otherwise valuable discussion. I know for one I don't use the system because of a lack of fitness, and somehow I don't think Tom Walker became one the most successful mammal photographers of our time by being "lazy".
  11. About a year ago, there was a lively discussion on the large format photography forum, whether photographers should be granted special access. Despite the facts that all respondants use heavy cameras and tripods, the overwhelming sentiment was no.
    On the other hand, if some private companies are given special access, then it is only fair that individuals also be granted some, however the criteria need to be also fair.
    It is interesting to note that Galen Rowell didn't manage to qualify for the Denali photographer permit. My wildlife experience in Denali park echoes his: a wilingness to hike can get you pretty close.
  12. << It is interesting to note that Galen Rowell didn't manage to qualify for the Denali photographer permit. My wildlife experience in Denali park echoes his: a wilingness to hike can get you pretty close. >>

    How much hiking did you do?
  13. Galen certainly qualified for a permit; I wouldn't be surprised if he sold the required number of images in a month if not a week.

    He does share a story where he had an assignment with short notice, and was frustrated he couldn't get access without going through the application process that had taken place many months before. He pointed out that publishers did not provide as much lead time with assignments as the Park Service permit system required, making the system somewhat ineffective for his needs.
  14. Galen also had plenty of money. When he didn't get a permit from the park because all
    permits had already been allocated, he hired a private company who has access to the
    park (Grandfather rights as they were in existance before the road restrictions) to drive
    him through the park to allow him to do his photography.
  15. A couple of points: When the park service considered elliminating the permit system 10 years ago, I recruited Galen Rowell's support on the issue. He helped by both calling and writing the park Superintendent urging him to KEEP the system. (It is interesting to note that Galen made one of his famous Denali landscapes by violating the park access rules. He acknowledged this both in Outdoor Photographer and in public speeches. He harmed nothing but accessed a spot very early in the a.m. that he could not have otherwise accessed via bus due to the timetable. He wanted to see the permit system in place so that this type thing was not necessary.)Art Wolfe and others also helped out with this.

    Second point: I would hope that all respondents would have also written to the Superintendent - no matter their point of view - as well as post here. This should be done by mid-Januray at the latest.
  16. It's all about the money! I have seen many private vehicles on the road that are not
    photographers, special permits of some kind. 5 photographer vehicles a day is not many,
    in fact, the last couple of times I was there I never saw all five in one day! 87 miles is a
    long stretch to space those out.

    But on to the issue. 1 - we need as many people to see these magnificent places as
    possible. 2 - too many people have a huge effect on the experience and on public land
    and wildlife. 3 - The tour business wouldn't be if photographs didn't promote the area in
    the first place. 4 - one private vehicle with two people does not have the impact on the
    park as one commercial vehicle with 40 people. and finally - I hike with the rest of them
    but in a park as big as Denali, you can't be in the right place at the right time by taking a
    bus and hiking, period.

    So what is the solution? Band together to keep our rights as professional photographers
    from being sold out to the highest bidder. Yes! We have the right to have special access to
    our public lands, to help promote, preserve, and protect them. More public lands have
    been set aside and protected by the works of nature photographers than by any tour
    company or commercial enterprise. Call, write, protest! Do it now! Denali now, Yosemite,
    Yellowstone, and your favorite place is next!

    Thanks, Tom, and all who understand how important an issue this really is.
  17. I find it remarkably offensive that the park service requires photographers to "prove" their
    worthiness by having published pictures in certain journals at a certain rate.

    The rules should be the same for anyone who wants one of these special permits, whether
    a painter, poet, photographer, or just someone who wants to experience the dawn light.
  18. I agree with the previous post. These permits should be available to anyone who wants to apply for them. After all, are not these public lands being managed for the sake of preservation for future generations? If so, how does excluding "unqualified" people help with the goal of preservation?
  19. Anyone can get into the park and take pictures, view the light or write poetry. There is no exclusion. The issue here is "special" permits to professional photographers for the benefit of the public interest. The idea, as I understand it, is that park management, and perhaps everyone else, has an interest in seeing quality images of the park presented in books, journals and periodicals for the public to view. It both "sells" the park, and allows all to see it's wonders, even if they are not able to travel to the park.

    Most poets and viewers the dawn light will probably not beifit the public interest. And they can still do that without a permit and a bit of hiking.

    John L made an interesting comment above about the idea that Denali Park doesn't need any more advertisement. More than enough people come to see it already. From his view, the past special photography permits have already served thier purpose and should now be stopped. That's interesting, but I really have no opinion on this issue.

    I have lived within easy driving distance of the park all my life, and have never gone in. I've visited lots of other national parks, but oddly, never Denali. I've seen plenty of Alaska up close, and now that the bus system is in place, I suspect that I would be disapointed. I wonder how many Wyomians have never toured Yellowstone?
  20. Tom,
    Thanks for the info on this development. I can only guess as to your source about this information. Personally I was hoping for stiffer requirements but the same number of permits.
    I wonder is this planning made available to the general public on a national scope? Are there any hearings on the management changes? Is there any period of public comment?
    Again I wonder, is there a case to make a class for a non-professional permits which could be removed from the commercial allocation.
  21. Matt has a point! All of OUR parks belong to all of us. Denali and the right to see it belongs as much to a person in Ohio as one in Alaska. To get a hiking permit in Denali should a person need to have hiked 500 miles in other parks before? Or be a professoinal hiker? On public lands that have draws for hunting should professional hunters get special consideration? If the rules say no car and you walk, then Pro or no you walk. If there are 100 premits for photographers, if you got a camera then you should have the same claim as a Pro. If the park wants photos to promote the park then buy all means let them hire a professional and get them. The preservation of our parks is the main thing we all need to keep in mind and the park officals have the right and need to do this! However this should be the power to limit the number of photographers not who they are. Richard
  22. In the debate, let us not forget that not all of us are the prime physical specimens we once were.

    I used to be one of those guys that would walk miles but now, a 'few' years later, arthritis makes it impossible to hike. Not something being fit fixes like loosing weight would cure (although that helps). So, before we all grandstand about lazy photographers, out of shape ones, remember there are others that can't do what you do.

    Our national parks are geared for access by 20 somethings; it seems the park services have lost sight of the change in demographics going on in the country. As we age, and we all will, accommodations for those not so vigorous or healthy will need to be made or have the parks become the playground of only the healthiest of us.

    The transfer of permits to operators in the Denali case is probably more about the bucks than the overuse by a few hundred photographers. Money talks, photographers walk.

    A fine question would be to the Superintendent of the park would be:

    "OK, now that you have restricted the ability of professionals and semi pros, even avid point and shooters to go do serious photography, would it not be prudent to require one of the operators to offer 10% of the trips for photographers only? That way, would not more of us be able to enjoy serious photography with its unique demands for equipment, patience, etc, while the tour busses thunder back and forth looking for the next critter?"

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