National Parks Will Charge Photographers "Location Fees"

By William Campbell

LIVINGSTON, MT – The National Park Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of the Interior, has published new rules authorizing the NPS to begin collecting location fees for video, film, and commercial still photography projects. The new regulations appeared in the Federal Register (Vol. 71, Number 71) published April 13, 2006, and will take effect on May 15, 2006.

The news came in the form of a press release issued Friday by the NPS Office of Public Affairs saying that they will now implement “location fees for commercial filming and still photography.” Currently film and video permits are required in National Parks but there have not been location fees until now. Administration charges to issue the free permits have ranged from no cost at all up to $200 per project.

“This is a first step in a process of departmental regulations that will apply to the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Lee Dickinson, special use coordinator for the National Park Service, told News Photographer magazine today.

The new location fees start at $150 per day and – with monitors and other charges – could exceed $500 per day.

The new rules are modeled after the existing film permit regulations and fee structures that are used by the Bureau of Land Management and now will be applied to all federally operated National Parks.

“Public lands were set aside in order to conserve and protect areas of untold beauty and grandeur, historical significance and uniqueness for future generations,” NPS director Fran Mainella said in the announcement. “Often, it’s the magnificence of these same lands that attracts filmmakers. This revised regulation will allow the Park Service to collect reasonable fees for use of federal lands as a result of both commercial filming and certain still photography activities.” This mention of still photography is the only other reference to non-video photography, but no further explanation is offered for how still photographers may be effected.

The park service says the change in rules and charging new fees is the result of a recent General Accounting Office (GAO) report that recommends NPS “expedite the implementation of revised regulations and implement collection of location fees.”

The National Park Service says that news coverage of breaking or spot news will not require a permit, but it is unclear how the new regulations will apply to television news features, magazine-type video journalism, and long-form natural history documentaries that cover wildlife and environmental issues within the National Parks.

For example, news crews covering a plane crash in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park would not be required to have a permit, but a television news crew shooting a feature story on ginseng poaching, or the effects of wild pigs on the environment, may require permits and fees. In story-rich parks like Yellowstone, covering the opening of a new interpretive center would not require a permit, but a feature on difficult to photograph grizzly bears or wolves could take weeks to shoot and cost thousands of dollars in daily fees.

Natural history documentary projects, traditionally low-budget productions with scant funding, could be hit especially hard by these new regulations. A one-year project on animal behavior in a National Park could conceivably cost a dedicated videographer fees in excess of $45,000.

“Collecting fees is now required by law, explained Dickinson. “ We are still working on how the fee structure will be applied.

The final draft departmental regulations will be published in the Federal Register within two months and will be open to public comment for at least 30 days.


Campbell, an NPPA member since 1978, is a producer, videographer, photojournalist, and president of Homefire Productions. He's shot and produced television segments for NBC, ABC Nightline, CNN, and the National Geographic Channel, and the one-hour documentaries "Season of the Grizzly" (2003), and "Sole Survivors: The Yellowstone Bison" (2004).