by Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara County Public Information Office
Niagara County lawmakers reacted with outrage to newsreports the U.S. Forest Service will now require "commercial" photographers to obtain pricey permits to take pictures on lands they manage - lands owned by the nation's citizens.
That plan has county legislators turning to the local congressional delegation for answers - and action.
The new permit scheme, set to come into effect in November, prompted an outcry late last week among media outlets concerned they would be charged for filming and photographing Forest Service-regulated lands. While county lawmakers agree with reporters outraged over the violation of the First Amendment - a stance the Forest Service has since backed away from - they say charging so-called "commercial" photographers isn't right, either.
"For the U.S. Forest Service to expect the citizens of this country to pay $1,500 to photograph the lands that they, as taxpayers, own and pay to maintain, is an outrage," said Legislator Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, who wrote to U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, asking Congress to pressure the administration to back away from the new policies.
"In essence, the federal government just said they own the image rights to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone - any federal land, they are ready to charge you an exorbitant fee, or fine you $1,000, if you dare to photograph the land you pay taxes to maintain," Bradt said Monday. "And the most obscene part? You, the taxpayers, own the land!"
Bradt and Majority Leader Rick Updegrove, R-Lockport, who wrote a similar letter to U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, saying they were fed up with government overreach of the type the policy represented. The full membership of the Legislature's Majority Caucus signed on to the two letters, urging their members of Congress to investigate the matter and block the bureaucratic directive.
"The entire majority caucus opposes the U.S. Forest Service in this matter," Bradt said. "This is a ludicrous policy. We are asking our congressional delegation to look into it and try to prevent the administration from moving forward with it."
Bradt and Updegrove noted the Legislature had long supported small business, and that policies targeting commercial photographers photographing nature and requiring them to pay to photograph land that they, as taxpaying U.S. citizens, owned, was wrong.
"This is an assault on small business," Bradt said. "We have art galleries in North Tonawanda and Lockport whose artists rely on deriving income from taking pictures of nature's beauty. This hurts them."