Utah's movie industry screamed bloody murder when the Bureau of Land Management decided that all major film projects in Utah's scenic deserts would be required to comply with a 45-day process before filming permits would be granted.
The 45-day waiting period - plus additional delays depending upon appeals by environmentalists - would delay movie projects, perhaps forcing movie studios to film their mega-million-dollar projects elsewhere, the industry said.But were the industry and the Moab Film Commission really crying wolf?
"Frankly, I think they blew this whole thing way out of proportion," said BLM director Jim Baca, who was in Salt Lake City Wednesday to meet with environmentalists and industry representatives from throughout the West.
"They hit the panic button and . . . set up a confrontational attitude with all involved."
Baca's visit to Utah was designed to get the film industry and conservationists to sit together at the bargaining table in a spirit of compromise. And he started the discussion by admitting the BLM has "not been following our own rules, and that's a fact."
He sought to "extract a willingness to cooperate" from both conservationists and industry officials. Yet Baca clearly laid the blame for the controversy at the feet of the industry.
Baca said he would also ask the motion picture industry to set up a code of conduct for filming on public lands. That code would likely be far more stringent for major projects, such as the ongoing filming of the movies "Geronimo" and "City Slickers II" than it would be for small advertisements or still-photography.
"This emotionalism has to stop," he said.
The controversy arose last fall during the filming of the movie "Slaughter of the Innocents." The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance protested a sequence in which a wooden "ark" was shoved off a cliff. The ark landed in a proposed wilderness area.
The BLM environmental assessment said winter snowfall would obliterate any traces of the fall, and that the fall itself would cause damage "similar to an accelerated rockfall in an area where we have that happen all the time," said one BLM official.
SUWA appealed the BLM decision to allow filming. The BLM's decision to allow the filming was later upheld by an assistant secretary of the Interior.
In February, the BLM announced that all moviemakers will be required to follow the land-use permit procedures imposed on other users whose planned use of public lands requires environmental studies. Those requirements called for a 15-day notification period, followed by a 30-day comment period before a permit could be issued.
That, the industry said, could be a death knell to filming on public lands. Many projects, they said, go from conception to final product in less than the 45 days it would take just to get the permit.
Baca, whose appointment as BLM director was only recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate, said he has not personally seen damage to public lands caused by filming movies, "but yes, it has occurred."
He also promised the BLM would follow the letter of the law when complying with environmental rules and regulations. "The times are changing and we have to change with them," he said.