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denali photography permits in jeopardy

tom walker , Dec 15, 2004; 10:37 p.m.

Below is the text of a letter sent last week to the Superintendent of Denali National Park from the Denali Access Workgroup of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. WE ONLY GET FIVE PERMITS A DAY NOW. If you think this is unfair let the travel group know December 6, 2004

Superintendent Paul Anderson Denali National Park (DNP) P.O. Box 9 Denali National Park, Alaska 99501

Dear Superintendent Anderson:

The Alaska Travel Industry Association Board of Directors have approved recommendations of the Denali Access Committee's (DAC) subcommittees on Photographer Permits and Tundra Wildlife Tours (TWT) and Visitor Transportation System (VTS) services. Those approved recommendations are attached for your review.

The primary recommendations are these:

Reduce the number of photographer permits from 550 to 200 for the 2005 season, transferring the balance of 350 permit days to the TWT allocation. Initially set the total TWT allocations to the full 2,389 used during the 2004 season. If photographer permits in whole or part can be transferred into TWT allocations without an Environmental Assessment, then additionally add those to the initial TWT allocation as well. The sooner the annual allocation can be set, the greater likely-hood all TWT permits can be used to the maximum benefit of the traveling public.

In addition, the TWT and VTS tours should be evaluated collectively to raise efficiencies of the system for the benefit of all visitor types. DAC members are willing to offer assistance to improve the process and make it more efficient without disrupting the access for independent travelers. Additionally, the DAC is pleased to assist DNP staff in improving the Denali Natural History Tours and expand potential opportunities to see and enjoy the DNP from locations other than the main Park road.

ATIA looks forward to hearing back from you on these very important Programs that dramatically impact Alaska tourism.


Ron Peck President & COO

alaska Travel Industry Association Board of Directors


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Bob K , Dec 15, 2004; 11:04 p.m.

I guess I don't know enough about those permits to comment.

Your post gives the impression that they would stop everyone from bringing in their cameras and tripods. This isn't the case is it? If I go hiking or camping in Denali, I can still take pictures, right?

So the permits must give you some extra privileges.

What extra privileges do you get with those permits? How much do they cost? Who gets them? (Only the photography tour groups?) Is there a lottery? Is there a URL that explains the current system of allocation and benefits for the photography permits?

Why would the Alaska Travel Industry be against photographers? I would think that photographers have become a significantly larger source of tourism revenues the last few years. Maybe if the photography permits are mixed into the larger TWT allocation, some of the previous TWT permits would go to photography so that there could actually be more photography permits allocated? Or would there be some benefits lost by operating under a TWT?

Again, your post might (or might not) be a little misleading. Please fill us in with more info.



Ron Niebrugge , Dec 15, 2004; 11:26 p.m.

Tom, thanks for the heads up. You say if we think this is unfair we should let the travel group know ? do you think it is effective to be writing to the travel group (ATIA)? I?m thinking it would be more effective to write directly to the Superintendent, as it seems like most the travel groups make it no secret they would rather have more buses for the backcountry lodge development. Second, hopefully it isn?t too late as December 6, 2004 has past.

Bob, the permit grants the ability to drive a personal vehicle into the park 12 days a summer. You do have to qualify and pay, I believe I paid $250 last year when I renewed. Then there it is a lottery process among the qualified applicants. Paying the $250 does not assure you of getting any days even under the current system.

Bob K , Dec 15, 2004; 11:41 p.m.

Thanks for the clarification.

What are the criteria for qualifying for the permits? You have to be a professional, or at least a semi-professional, I assume. If so, what (or who) determines who is and isn't a professional?

Even though I'm not a professional, I appreciate how tough it is to make a living at nature photography. I would support any efforts helping professional photographers practice their craft.


Richard Cochran , Dec 15, 2004; 11:45 p.m.

I found a bit of background info on the NPS website. First, it's the policy of the NPS to allow photography among all visitors, and no special fees or permits are required, as long as they are going places and doing things that would otherwise be permitted if they weren't carrying a camera.

See The NPS Management Policies, chapter 8. Scroll down to 8.6.6

The National Park Service will encourage filming and photography when it will promote the protection and public enjoyment of park resources, provided that the activity does not violate the criteria listed in section 8.2.

Filming and photography activities that do not necessarily promote the protection and public enjoyment of parks, but which meet the section 8.2 criteria, will also be permitted. ... Permits and Fees

A permit will be required for any filming or photography that (1) involves the use of a model, set, or prop; (2) requires entry into a closed area; or (3) requires access to the park after normal visiting hours.

A permit will not be required for a visitor using a camera and/ or a recording device for his/ her own personal use within normal visitation areas and hours.

Second, in Denali National Park, they have a special "Professional Photographer's / Artists Program" that allows published professional photographers to take a private vehicle on roads where private vehicles are ordinarily prohibited. This special access program does require a permit. To qualify, you must provide proof of at least 24 published photographs within the past year. At least 5 of the 24 must be sold or printed in a publication(s) with a circulation over 250,000, as listed in the most recent edition of Photographers' Market published by Writer's Digest Books. There's a $100.00 application fee, plus an additional permit fee of $150.00 if you are selected to receive a permit. There is a lottery for permits. More info is on The Denali NP page

John Lehman , Dec 16, 2004; 01:02 a.m.

At issue is whether photographers who do not want to ride the bus system and who are are too lazy to carry their equipment from where they leave the bus to the next photo op should be allowed to drive their own vehicles in the park. As a 50-some year old Alaskan who backpacks large format and 35mm telephoto gear, I have no sympathy for out-of-shape outsiders whose "love for nature" requires that they make a flying drive in and out to get their images without any physical exertion. The park service does not need to promote Denali; it is already over-visited. IMHO, there should be NO driving permits issued. If you can't carry your gear on your own two legs, you should stick to fashion photography.

Mike Perrault , Dec 16, 2004; 01:57 a.m.


JOhn, i agree that denali is rather over visited. But isn't that a good thing? I am from oregon(our coast, and columbia gorge are the 3 most visited place on the westcoast) and i know what its like to have lots of tourists. But for a place like denali thats a great thing. I do think that visitors who are visiting for just seeing it should take busses, if anyhting it makes things easier for them. However, saying that people are too lazy if they drive their cars to their shooting point? So you're saying that you walk from the park gates? Photography is something that can only educate, and at this point the world would do a little good by being educated about the world, especially beautiful places like denali. I understand being protective of our respective beautiful places, butit only needs to go so far.

Jim Strutz - Anchorage, AK , Dec 16, 2004; 03:37 a.m.

"However, saying that people are too lazy if they drive their cars to their shooting point? So you're saying that you walk from the park gates?"

No, he's saying that some people are too lazy to pack their gear from where the buss will drop them off. It's the same road as the one the permit allows pro photographers to access with their personal vehicles, but using the bus is far more arduous. It's quite difficult to do a multi-day photo shoot with just the stuff you can pack on the bus, but as John points out, it can be done.

But the issue from Tom's point of view is that the tourist business group is being greedy. Since pro photographers generally don't use as many of their services as the Tundra Tours groupies, they want to redirect some/all of the pro photographers user days to people that would benifit the tour businesses more.

A very similar issue exists with professional and private rafters on the Grand Canyon and other highly used rivers. The professionals get a much higher percentage of user days alocated than private boaters, because there is less revenue generated by private boaters. These are both political issues and money talks.

Steve Kaufman , Dec 16, 2004; 08:38 a.m.

Thanks Tom. The issue is a bit more complicated than John describes. First of all, the park has two bus systems. There are shuttle buses which provide transportation to anyone using the park, and there are Tundra Tour buses which are an expensive tour which caters more to the hotels around the park. Note that the shuttle buses aren't being increased; only the Tundra Tour buses are being considered. A Tundra Tour now costs $94/adult. Multiply that by 40 people/day. It's not difficult to see why they want to keep increasing the number of Tundra Tour buses. With each increase, there is more wear and tear on the road, and there is an increasing need to provide more service facilities (toilets!) to benefit a commercial enterprise.

There are very strict regulations against approaching large animals or nesting birds in the park. It is not legal to approach bears or other large animals on foot. The buses are not allowed to drop off people near a large animal that is near the road. The buses also do not run at all ours of the day, and frequently the best times to photograph animals is in the very early morning or late evening (and in Alaska during the summer, that means between the hours of 10 PM and 4 AM are the often the optimum times)

For what it's worth, Tom is one of those people who does hike long distances from the road to pursue his photography. Tom's been photographing in the park for many years. His images grace numerous books, calendars, and magazines, and not only do they promote the park, they also provide millions of people a glimpse into the lives of animals and promote conservation of wildlife everywhere (not just in Denali).

Ron Niebrugge , Dec 16, 2004; 01:09 p.m.

Well Mr. Lehman, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, and if you don't feel the Park Service should offer any advantages to photographers, that is fine.

What I don't care for is your belittling characterization of photographers who utilize the permit system. Putting down those you disagree with may make you feel good, and possibly boast your ego, but comments like that offer nothing to an otherwise valuable discussion. I know for one I don't use the system because of a lack of fitness, and somehow I don't think Tom Walker became one the most successful mammal photographers of our time by being "lazy".

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