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PUBLIC-LANDS PHOTO POLICY AN EXERCISE IN CONFUSION

SHARE PUBLIC-LANDS PHOTO POLICY AN EXERCISE IN CONFUSION

Bureaucracy is alive and well and confusing everyone who wants to take pictures on Utah's federally owned lands.

Last month, local officials of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service told the Deseret News they were going to enforce rules requiring any photographer, amateur or professional, to pay fees of about $100 a day for taking pictures they intended to sell. They based the rules on a rather general congressional mandate requiring anyone using public lands for a commercial purpose to buy permits and pay rental fees.But now the top people in both the BLM and the Forest Service say such a policy never existed, and they blame the media for getting it all wrong.

Last month, when officials decided to enforce the rules, this page called it silly. However, the latest development is downright baffling.

Apparently, bureaucrats in Washington and in Utah are reading from different scripts. Not only that, they are rewriting history. Not only did the media report accurately on the earlier policy, several photographers, including at least one at the Deseret News, received notice from the government that they needed a permit for photos on public lands.

At the time, the policy was explained as necessary to recover the cost of using public resources, as if capturing light from public lands on film created an expense for taxpayers. The rules were confusing and inconsistent. News organizations were exempt, but freelance photographers were not.

The new interpretation scraps all that and requires permits only for people who photograph tourists and then try to sell them the pictures, shoot commercial products on public lands or affect the land in any way.

Meanwhile, the government is holding hearings in an effort to draft an entirely new set of regulations.

Here's an idea: Drop all fee requirements except for the people who affect the land in some way, such as movie or television crews. Not only would that be less confusing, it would be more in line with the Constitution's guarantee of free speech.

After all, federally owned lands belong to taxpayers, not to the bureaucrats.