Pay to shoot?
Forest Service wants commercial photographers to pony up.
The Mono County Tourism & Film Commission held its last meeting of 2014 on Wednesday November 19 in Lee Vining discussing several agenda items.
The Commission considered a draft letter to U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief Tom Tidwell, regarding the proposed directive requiring a permit for commercial photography and filmmaking in congressionally designated wilderness areas.
Commissioner Jennifer Roeser recently traveled to Washington D.C. and talked to officials at the Forest Service about the directive. “They’re trying to prevent the commercialization of public lands because it’s the very antithesis of what they want,” she said. The directive, however, raises lots of concerns both locally and nationally.
The directive has been in place on an interim basis for four years, but on September 4, the USFS released a proposal to include it in the Forest Service Handbook, calling for public comment before November 3. Immediately the directive received national backlash from news agencies arguing their First Amendment rights of freedom of the press.
On September 25, Tidwell clarified the directive’s intentions, explaining it would not be applied to journalists or recreational photography. However, professional and amateur photographers will need a permit if “they use models, actors or props; work in areas where the public is generally not allowed; or cause additional administrative costs.”
The USFS extended the comment period to December 3.
Commissioner Alicia Vennos said the directive still leaves too much room for interpretation and causes confusion regarding the use of recreational photographs for tourism purposes. “We’re trying to promote the intrinsic natural value of the wilderness, but if we use a hiker or a backpack, we need a permit?” she asked.
The draft letter asks the USFS to clarify the language of the directive. Other clarifications requested include: the publication of recreational photos on social media sites that may be published later for commercial purposes, outfitter and guides who use material from their permitted backcountry trips as advertisement for their services, and how the directive applies to non-profits, agencies, visitor bureaus and Chambers of Commerce who are responsible for “promoting the region’s scenic beauty, natural wonders, and outdoor recreation opportunities.”
The Commission concludes the letter by asking for a public 90-day comment period after the new language is adopted.
Also at the meeting on Wednesday, Ralph Lockhart from the June Lake Events Committee updated the Commission about plans for the June Lake Winter Festival and Snowmobile Poker Rally for 2015.
Last year, the Commission approved County marketing funds to promote the two winter events outside of the area. However, due to lack of snow, both events were cancelled before the June Lake Events Committee had really pushed the marketing for the events.
“It’s hard to have a winter festival when we don’t have winter,” Lockhart said. “We had a successful event two years ago, but now we have to restart the whole thing.”
The Commission approved the proposal to reallocate the funds for marketing the 2015 events, which will take place on the same weekend, February 20-22. Lockhart hopes combining the events will create the “critical mass” needed to make them successful.
The Winter Festival is more for families and athletes, with an ice sculpture contest, kid’s fun zone and the winter Triathlon, while the Poker Rally caters mainly to snowmobilers. Combining these two groups will draw more people to the area over the weekend following President’s Day weekend.
The plan is to eventually split the events into consecutive weekends, hopefully creating a “weeklong festival with the [triathlon and snowmobile rally] as bookends,” he said.
June Mountain has been very supportive of the winter events, according to Lockhart, and last year generated $5,000 by donating $10 of every June Lake season pass to the June Lake Chamber of Commerce, specifically designated for Winter Events. And for the upcoming event, June Mountain will host the Winter Triathlon, grooming the trails and setting the course for the cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and laser rifle-shooting event.
In Lockhart’s estimation, June Lake “is breaking new ground,” with good visitation numbers through the end of October. The last quarter brought in the largest Transit Occupancy Tax in history, and he wants to see this continue through the winter. “One way or the other, we’re going to grow this place,” Lockhart concluded.