Friday, March 7, 2008

Missing the Big Picture

A legally permissible image captured at a California state beach.

We'd always enjoyed our outings to local state and regional parks, and—until this week—found park rangers to be friendly and helpful. They always seemed genuinely pleased that we were taking an interest in the local flora and fauna, unlike the usual range of surfers/ball players/picnickers.

But as of late, the friendly helpful rangers seem to have been replaced by evil pod people. The object of their ire? Glenn's camera. He shoots with a large lens, and almost always uses a tripod.

Last weekend at Santiago Oaks, Glenn was standing by the side of a trail trying to photograph something, when a ranger pulled up and asked sharply if he was shooting professionally. He told her truthfully that he wasn't, and she drove off. Quite a difference from the rangers we had met there before, who'd ask us what we were looking at, then spend ten minutes telling us about all the other birds and animals in the park.

This afternoon, Glenn took off to take sunset shots at Crystal Cove State Beach. (I stayed home to finish up some stuff for work.) It's a great place for birds, and Glenn had shot there many times before without any problems. Rangers and lifeguards would drive by often and wave at us.

But not tonight: Instead, one of them stopped him and told him he had to leave: it's illegal to take professional photos at a state park without an official permit. And even if you're not a professional and don't make any money off your photos, if you post them on a website or blog or enter them in competitions, that makes you a professional. Thus, he was in violation of state law for taking photos of freaking birds on the beach!


I don't know if this a new law that just went into effect, or whether they just decided to start enforcing it, but it's phenomenally stupid. Under the definition of "professional" photography provided by the ranger, anyone who takes a photo of a beach party with a cell phone and posts it on her MySpace page will be violating state law.

I could see why they wouldn't want hoards of wedding photographers or film crews hogging up prime beach areas during the height of the tourist season—permits and some kind of advance notice should be required for projects that require a lot of people and space—but what's so obstructive about ONE DUDE WITH A TRIPOD?? On a weekday afternoon when almost nobody else is on the beach?? He's not violating anyone's privacy. He was not making any noise. He was occupying less space that someone sunbathing on a blanket. And he's not a litigious type who'd sue the state if he got sand in his gear—if they were worried about that, they could just have photographers sign waivers; I imagine most would be happy to do so.

The mind boggles.

The other stupid thing about the photo ban is that it alienates the very people the park system should be trying to attract. Rangers and nature photographers want the same things: safe, clean parks and beaches with healthy ecosystems. And all those photos being posted on blogs and photo forums? Free publicity!

Given that The Governator is considering shutting down a couple dozen state parks to help balance the state budget, why wouldn't they want all the free (positive) publicity they can get?

What made this so galling for Glenn was that we are both official volunteer docents for the California State Park system—we dragged ourselves out of bed at 6 a.m. every Saturday during the spring and summer to spend the morning at the Huntington State Beach Snowy Plover/Least Tern Reserve, telling hoards of people significantly larger than us not to step on the Snowy Plovers.

And now, apparently, those people are more welcome at the beach than we are.


Susanne49 said...

I can tell you from my experience as a Wedding photographer in Key West FL, that we had to pay from $300 up to $500 for a spot at the beach in the National Park to do our wedding shots! And this was already 2 years ago a regulation there.

John said...

I suspect the state's fiscal problems have something to do with it. Management probably hopes to make more revenue from photo permits, so they're putting pressure on rangers to stop photographers with tripods. At least, that's my guess.

doug said...

I think you are absolutely right that this policy is absurd.

I hope you'll consider writing a letter to the editor (OC Register) and a carbon copy to your state congressmen.

In my estimate, photography is a major hobby in Orange County. I imagine that Glenn's experience would outrage many of your fellow hobbyists...

tenderstorm said...

That is outrageous! I kinda agree with John's comments about the State needing additional funds but at least there should have been prior notification.

And why don't the Rangers cite those people who bring their dogs (often unleashed) to the Parks/Beaches? Go figure!

How different it is in Texas where Parks even set-up blinds for photographers.

Sparverius said...

I work for a state park myself in the west, and yes, I'm sure it's come down to a revenue thing. Especially sine you mention the state is considering closing some parks. Eeks, that's never a good thing. But I agree that it's rather absurd and very frustrating.

Anonymous said...

I think it may have more to do with "crystal cove". there has been alot of grief over whoever is making revenue (cabana's) is in some ways trying to own the ocean front property & that is illegal. it belongs to all of us. i know it sounds like paranoid thinking, but the more i follow so cal politics, the more twisted it becomes! why not save all open space along our coast as as national park and reap those benefits?

Angelique said...

I am really glad you decided to contact the Coastal Commission to get this resolved--it is absurd that you were harassed.

I noticed you have been to Santiago Oaks in the last few weeks. OC Parks website indicates 90% of the park was affected by the fires, is there still visible damage? How is the wildlife re-adapting?

Felicia said...

Hi Angelique,

Signs of the fire are still very much in evidence at Santiago Oaks (lots of burnt trees and scorched earth, especially in the upper parts of the park) but there has also been a lot of regrowth—thank goodness for the heavy winter rains! Most of the lower part of the park is green and healthy, with lots of active bird life. It's definitely still worth checking out.