Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

What, Forest Service Gutting the First Amendment? Relax Already.

Thursday, September 25th, 2014
What, Forest Service Gutting the First Amendment? Relax Already.

There’s a lot of outrage on the Internets these days about proposed plans by the U.S. Forest Service to gut the First Amendment by requiring permits for news media or nature photographers in Federally-designated wilderness areas on Forest Service lands. After reading a lot of the outrage, there are two things that come abundantly clear: None of the outraged have actually read the applicable Federal Register notice, and none of them are aware that this has been the status quo on Federal public lands for decades. Nothing on the face of the notice actually applies to the media. So, you have to look at the applicable proposed regulation in order to see how “unfairly” the media is “targeted.”

What the Federal Register Notice Actually Says

It’s always important when analyzing a law to go back to the original language, not how it has been interpreted. So, in this case, let’s go to the actual notice as printed in the Federal Register. The notice published by the U.S. Forest Service proposes changes to 36 C.F.R. 251, which currently requires a special use permit for any activity on Forest Service lands other than noncommercial uses and other exempted activities.  The proposal at issue is to take interim guidance that has been in effect for four years and develop “permanent guidance for the evaluation of proposals for still photography and commercial filming on National Forest System Lands.” Noting the need for consistent, national criteria for evaluating applications for special use permits for such activities, the ultimate goal to develop “the criteria used to evaluate request for special use permits related to still photography and commercial filming in congressionally designated wilderness areas.” Most importantly, the Federal Register notice does not even propose new restrictions on activities at all – it merely proposes creating more evaluation criteria so that the Forest Service can consistently evaluate applications for special use permits.  Let me make this clear – it does not propose any changes to what activities already require a special use permit under existing U.S. Forest Service regulations.  The proposed evaluation criteria would allow the U.S. Forest Service to issue a special use permit for “commercial filming” and “still photography” if the application

[m]eets the screening criteria in 36 CFR 251.54(e); [w]ould not cause unacceptable resource damage; [w]ould not unreasonably disrupt the public’s use and enjoyment of the site where the activity would occur; [w]ould not pose a public health and safety risk; and [m]eets the following additional criteria, if the proposed activity, other than noncommercial still photography (36 CFR 251.51), would be in a congressionally designated wilderness area: a. Has a primary objective of dissemination of information about the use and enjoyment of wilderness or its ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value (16 U.S.C. 1131(a) and (b)); b. Would preserve the wilderness character of the area proposed for use, for example, would leave it untrammeled, natural, and undeveloped and would preserve opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation (16 U.S.C. 1131(a)); c. Is wilderness-dependent, for example, a location within a wilderness area is identified for the proposed activity and there are no suitablelocations outside of a wilderness area (16 U.S.C. 1133(d)(6)); d. Would not involve use of a motor vehicle, motorboat, or motorized equipment, including landing of aircraft, unless authorized by the enabling legislation for the wilderness area (36 CFR 261.18(a) and (c)); e. Would not involve the use of mechanical transport, such as a hang glider or bicycle, unless authorized by the enabling legislation for the wilderness area (36 CFR 261.18(b)); f. Would not violate any applicable order (36 CFR 261.57); and g. Would not advertise any product or service.

In short, the permit application may be granted if the activity will not disrupt others’ enjoyment of the forest or cause any safety risks, and, for permits in wilderness areas, does not violate the Congressional mandates of the Wilderness Act of 1964. That is it – there are no new restrictions being considered, merely clarified guidelines as to how the agency will evaluate your permit application. Quite frankly, as a member of the public, I’d rather there be clear, specific guidelines rather than allowing the agency to exercise its own unfettered discretion.

Permitting for “Commercial Filming” and “Still Photography” on Federal Public Lands

The key terms in the Federal Register notice are “still photography” and “commercial filming, ” so, the smart place to go next is how those terms are defined in existing regulations. Currently, any use of Forest Service lands is considered a special use except “noncommercial recreational activities, such as camping, picnicking, hiking, fishing, boating, hunting, and horseback riding, or for noncommercial activities involving the expression of views, such as assemblies, meetings, demonstrations, and parades, unless … the proposed use is still photography as defined in [this regulation].” Additionally, the regulations note that travel on the Forest Service road system shall not require a special use permit unless the activity is “commercial filming, or still photography, as defined in [this regulation].”

So, how do the Forest Service regulations currently define “commercial filming” and “still photography”? That is the question that no one is asking. “Commercial filming” is defined as “use of motion picture, videotaping, sound recording, or any other moving image or audio recording equipment on National Forest System lands that involves the advertisement of a product or service, the creation of a product for sale, or the use of models, actors, sets, or props, but not including activities associated with broadcasting breaking news, as defined in FSH 2709.11, chapter 40.” The other key term, “still photography,” is defined as “use of still photographic equipment on National Forest System lands that takes place at a location where members of the public generally are not allowed or where additional administrative costs are likely, or uses models, sets, or props that are not a part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities.”

By their plain language, neither definition would apply to someone who was going in with a regular DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera or iPhone to take wildlife, nature or landscape photos, unless models or props were needed. It also would not apply to any media reporter using still photography – DSLR or iPhone – to simply capture images for editorial purposes. It would require, however, a special use permit if a media organization wanted to bring in a film crew to work on a documentary or series. But in this case, what is being regulated is conduct – the type of activity and the number of people involved – not the speech of the press. And courts have routinely held that the government can regulate conduct without violating the First Amendment. Public land managers have an obligation to ensure that the organic acts governing those agencies, and where applicable, the Wilderness Act, are being followed. A large film crew – regardless of the intent of that crew (feature film or news organization) – can have an impact on public resources. 

This approach is not unique, and is reflected in existing regulations on all other Federal public lands. The Department of the Interior also requires a permit for “commercial filming” and “still photography” for National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service lands. Under 36 C.F.R. §5.5, “commercial filming” and “still photography” activities require a permit, as stated in 43 C.F.R. Part 5. Under those regulations, all “commercial filming” requires a permit, and “still photography” requires a permit when “[i]t uses a model, set, or prop as defined in §5.12; or … [t]he agency determines a permit is necessary because … [i]t takes place at a location where or when members of the public are not allowed; or .. [t]he agency would incur costs for providing on-site management and oversight to protect agency resources or minimize visitor use conflicts.”  “Commercial filming is defined as “the film, electronic, magnetic, digital, or other recording of a moving image by a person, business, or other entity for a market audience with the intent of generating income. Examples include, but are not limited to, feature film, videography, television broadcast, or documentary, or other similar projects. Commercial filming activities may include the advertisement of a product or service, or the use of actors, models, sets, or props.” Under these regulations, “still photography” is defined as “the capturing of a still image on film or in a digital format.”

Thus, existing regulations for NPS, BLM and USFWS lands incorporate pretty much the same elements as those under current Forest Service regulations.  In both instances, the regulations recognize the special role of the media. The Interior regulations do not require a permit for any news-gathering activities – filming or still photography – unless it is determined that a “permit is necessary to protect natural and cultural resources, to avoid visitor use conflicts, to ensure public safety or authorize entrance into a closed area; and [o]btaining a permit will not interfere with the ability to gather the news.” The Interior regulation also exempts the news media from any applicable fees. The definition of “commercial filming” under the Forest Service regulations excludes “activities associated with broadcasting breaking news.” However, the Forest Service does not appear to exempt news-gathering from a special use fee. 

Neither the Interior nor the Forest Service regulations set a specific fee for a special use permit application. In the Forest Service regulations, it notes a possible “rental fee” of $100 annually, plus “cost recovery” fees of an unspecified amount to “recover the agency’s processing costs for special use applications and monitoring costs for special use authorizations” and an unspecified “processing fee,” which varies based on numerous factors. Nowhere do the regulations provide for a $1,500 application fee as the various media accounts claim.  Similarly vague, the Interior regulations require a “reasonable location fee that provides a fair return to the United States” and a “cost recovery fee”  that covers “direct and indirect expenses including, but not limited to, administrative costs for application processing, preproduction meetings and other activities, on-site monitoring of permitted activities, and any site restoration.” In all cases, such fees are not set nationally, but by the regional land manager. For example, the Denali National Park Professional Photographer Special Road Travel permit requires an application fee of $100, plus $150 for the actual permit if awarded. The park’s commercial filming permit application fee is $200, with the permit fee itself varying from $150 to $750 per day, depending on how many people are involved in the shoot.

In short, the Forest Service is not proposing any new regulations that would require any additional types of activities to get a special use permit, and its regulations are consistent with the regulations that govern National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands. You will not have to pay a special use permit fee to take nature or wildlife photos using a DSLR in Forest Service lands, wilderness or otherwise, unless you are using props and models like a commercial stock photographer would use. If you are a reporter, the same applies.

Getting to the Real Problem

Now, this discussion does highlight two problems, neither of which are related to the proposed Forest Service regulation. First, the existing regulations that define “commercial filming” are woefully out-of-touch with modern technology. You don’t need a massive film crew with lots of equipment and motorized transportation to do filming these days, whether with a HD digital video camera or a DSLR. It can be done with one person traveling on foot or non-motorized power. Anyone who has ever seen Survivorman knows this. Second, while the national regulations themselves are not terribly confusing, how they are often enforced or interpreted by local land managers has led to actions that are inconsistent with and contradictory to the plain language of the regulations. When local land managers stretch and abuse the regulations to enforce their own vision of how lands should be used, they violate public trust and create a serious Constitutional problem; that is, that we are supposed to be on notice of what the government expects of us. When their actions violate the plain language of that notice, then we have a real problem.

From “Northern Exposure” to “Wild West Alaska”

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

There are countless aspects of the show Northern Exposure that appealed to me, and as I have lived in Alaska for 15 years, I have come to realize that the show understood Alaska. But more than exposing me to the idea of Alaska and its culture and the wonder of the northern lights, it also gave me an idea for a piece of photo equipment I would lust over for years to come.

It was the episode where Holling goes on a “hunting” camping trip (“A-Hunting We Will Go,” Season 3). For decades, Holling had set aside killing animals (through hunting or trapping), and now he only hunted them with a big lens. But rather than drag a tripod out into the backcountry with him, Holling had a lens mount built onto a rifle stock so that he could hand-hold his 300mm lens and have extra stability. I always liked the idea. And as I came more and more to shoot from moving platforms – like canoes or kayaks or boats – I came to long for a rifle stock with a lens mount, fitted with a shutter trigger in the same location where the normal trigger would be found on a rifle.

Over the years, I would occasionally skim through magazines, then through web search engines, looking for something like Holling’s rifle lens mount. But I never could find just what I was looking for. And then, a discussion with some friends drifted to the idea of having one custom made. Since I am not much of a gun owner, I was not aware of where to go for such a thing. Then the suggestion rang out: Wild West Guns, a specialty gun shop in Anchorage.

And before I knew it, not only was I approaching Wild West Guns, but I was roped into their reality TV show, Wild West Alaska, as well. (Not being much of a gun owner, I was not aware of this show, either.)

I won’t tell the whole story of how things unfolded at Wild West Guns. You can see the episode on Animal Planet or for download on The episode is called “Hell on Wheels.” My only disappointment from the episode is that they did not use a whole interview sequence we shot at Wild West Guns where you can see how I got the idea for the rifle stock. But what Mitch created for me is a complete work of art, performing exactly as how I had envisioned. And like I say on the show, it makes my 500mm lens feel about half the weight, and makes it much easier to hold the lens for longer periods of time.  I also have come away with a higher percentage of sharp images, even for distant subjects.

But, if you follow this blog, you have already seen how my first fieldwork with the new rifle lens mount went. And while I couldn’t say during that original blog post about a trip to Prince William Sound what TV show I was out there for, now you know.


Mitch and the Animal Planet crew behind my episode of “Wild West Alaska.”

Wilderness Forever Semi-Finalist Selections

Friday, January 17th, 2014
Wilderness Forever Semi-Finalist Selections

On September 3, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law. The law would establish the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) and create the highest classification of protection for Federal public lands – “wilderness.” It recognized wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” It further defined wilderness – for purposes of the NWPS – as an area “retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”

Currently, there are 757 wilderness areas in the NWPS – over 109 million acres in 44 states, totaling only about 5% of the total land area of the United States.  The largest addition of acreage to the national wilderness system came in 1980, with the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Then, President Jimmy Carter added over 56 million acres in national park and national wildlife refuge lands to the NWPS. Today, Alaska’s share of wilderness constitutes some 56% of the total acreage of the NWPS.

So, when Nature’s Best Photography magazine announced that it was conducting a photo competition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, I knew I would have an advantage given my own photography of wilderness areas in Alaska. My two chief photography projects in the last six years have involved two wilderness areas: Lake Clark Wilderness and Gates of the Arctic Wilderness. So, when the call came out for submissions to the “Wilderness Forever” competition, I looked to my images from those two areas. Why? Both included some of my most recent wilderness photography work, and they included areas that would not likely be included in submissions by other photographers.

I learned this week that five of my images – three from Lake Clark and two from Gates of the Arctic  – have been selected as semi-finalists in the Wilderness Forever competition. As an interesting side note, the three Lake Clark images were all taken during the same trip to the Twin Lakes region in June 2013, and all of the Gates of the Arctic images were from the same trip in early March 2010. Out of 5,500 submissions, they narrowed down the pool to 300 images in the semi-final round of judging. Winning images will be included in an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.  Here’s hoping for a trip to D.C. for the exhibit opening in September!

Feature in National Parks Magazine

Friday, January 17th, 2014
Feature in National Parks Magazine

In December 1980, in the final days of his administration, President Jimmy Carter signed into law what is commonly known as the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). A work in progress for nearly a decade, since the 1971 passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, ANILCA is perhaps the most significant single piece of conservation legislation in the history of this country. In a post-ANILCA world, Alaska now possesses approximately 70% of all national park lands in the United States and some 85% of national wildlife refuge lands. In a related note, Alaska now possesses some 56% of all lands designated as wilderness in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Aside from creating several entirely new national parks and expanding the boundary of some existing parks, as well as creating several new national wildlife refuges, Title VIII of ANILCA also established a rural subsistence priority for the harvest of fish and wildlife on federal public lands in Alaska. What exactly does that mean? Let’s break that down into a few components.  First, the term “subsistence” refers to a traditional way of life where primary food sources are fished, caught, hunted or gathered – everything from the traditional gillnet harvest of salmon to collecting berries, eggs and edible plants, to the hunting of moose and caribou. Second, Congress indicated that the term “rural” would refer to those smaller communities and remote locations that were places other than the larger urban areas of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and some other communities. Third, the “priority” would be in place in those times where there is a shortage of the resource and decisions need to be made as to who gets the first (or only) opportunity to harvest – commercial and sport users would have to give way to the subsistence harvest of rural residents. Finally, the “federal public lands” would include most of those new lands created in ANILCA (but exclude the core original parts of some of those existing parks that were expanded, like Denali and Katmai).

In its Winter 2014 issue of National Parks, the National Parks Conservation Association has published an article highlighting the impact of ANILCA on the subsistence way of life for rural Alaskans. I am pleased to note that three of my images, including the opening double-page spread, are included in the article.  All of the images were captured in or near Lake Clark National Park & Preserve and were captured as part of the fieldwork for my upcoming book, “Where Water is Gold: Life and Livelihood in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.”


Media coverage of EPA’s final Bristol Bay watershed assessment

Thursday, January 16th, 2014
Media coverage of EPA's final Bristol Bay watershed assessment

Normally, I would use this blog to engage in my own reflections on photography or tell stories about being out in the field.  But, with the release of the EPA’s Final Assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed assessment, I think I will just sit back and reflect on the extensive coverage being offered by other sources.

Before allowing you to examine the coverage yourself, I will add one point of criticism.  I am sick and tired of “He Said, She Said” reporting; that is, when a reporter merely regurgitates what one side says and what the other side says about an issue. This is particularly true regarding the release of this report, where you have an article saying the pro-Pebble side objects to the hypothetical mine scenario and the EPA says is relied on a Northern Dynasty preliminary mine design.  Why the heck don’t these reporters actually look at the Northern Dynasty report for themselves and conduct their own analysis? Grrrr.


Bristol Bay salmon: EPA warns of threat from mining

Christian Science Monitor 
A government report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and adversely affect Alaska Natives, whose culture is built around salmon.

EPA Says Northern Dynasty Pebble Project May Harm Alaska Salmon

Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. (NDM)’s proposed Pebble copper and gold mine in Alaska may threaten the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency final assessment. Depending on the project’s size and 

EPA sees damage to Bristol Bay if mining proceeds Hastings doc requests cost 

With help from Darius Dixon, Erica Martinson and Talia Buford. EPA SEES DAMAGE TO BRISTOL BAY IF MINING PROCEEDS: Mining activity in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region has the potential to destroy miles of salmon stream habitat, disrupt Alaska Native 

Mine threatens salmon, native cultures: agency

Oman Daily Observer
Large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses serious risks to salmon and native cultures in this pristine corner of southwest Alaska, the US Environmental Protection Agency said in a report released on Wednesday. The EPA said a mine could 

EPA: Huge Alaska mine ‘poses risks’ to Bristol Bay salmon

Seattle Post Intelligencer (blog) 
An enormous open-pit copper and gold mine, proposed near headwaters of two salmon-rich rivers, “poses risks” to Bristol Bay’s half-billion-dollar sockeye salmon fishery, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a final assessment of the proposed 

EPA report criticizes Alaska mine plan

Los Angeles Times 
SEATTLE — The largest open-pit mine in North America, proposed for Alaska’s wild and remote Bristol Bay region, would have a devastating effect on the world’s biggest sockeye salmon fishery and the Alaska Natives and fishermen who depend on it, 

Alaska mine threatens salmon, native cultures -US agency

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses serious risks to salmon and native cultures in this pristine corner of southwest Alaska, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a report released on Wednesday.

EPA Critical of Alaska Pebble Mine Project

Wall Street Journal 
WASHINGTON—The Environmental Protection Agency released its final report Wednesday on the potential effects of a proposed mining operation in Alaska’s Bristol Bay area, saying that the Pebble Mine could have “significant” adverse effects on salmon 

EPA: Mining would destroy fishery, villages, part of watershed in Alaska’s Bristol 

Washington Post
A large-scale mining operation in Alaska’s Bristol Bay would destroy a significant portion of the watershed, a pristine fishery that supports nearly half the world’s sockeye salmon and dozens of Native villages that have relied on fishing for thousands of years, 

Alaska’s Bristol Bay Region could be devastated by mining, EPA report finds

The Guardian 
Alaska mining A worker with the Pebble Mine project test drills in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska near the village of Iliamma, Alaska. Photograph: AL Grillo/AP. A large-scale gold and copper mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region would devastate the world’s 

Northern Dynasty Acknowledges Completion of EPA’s Flawed Bristol Bay 

Wall Street Journal
VANCOUVER, Jan. 15, 2014 /CNW/ – Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. (TSX: NDM; NYSE MKT: NAK) (“Northern Dynasty” or the “Company”) acknowledges that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released the final version of its Bristol Bay 

A big test for Obama on the environment

Washington Post
It’s now common knowledge that, with one party in the grip of climate denialism, the best chance for serious action on climate change during Obama’s second term will be using the federal bureaucracy via executive action. The EPA in particular is the key 

EPA: Large-scale mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could harm salmon 

Washington Post
JUNEAU, Alaska — EPA: Large-scale mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could harm salmon, Alaska Natives. Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. A worker 

1000+ sporting groups and businesses call on the EPA to follow the science and 

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Jan. 16, 2014 /NEWS.GNOM.ES/ – Yesterday’s release by the Environmental Protection Agency of the final Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment brought praise from a vast coalition of 1,048 sporting groups and businesses opposed to 

Grim Picture Painted by Final EPA Assessment of Mining in Bristol Bay

Hatch Magazine 
The long awaited final scientific assessment of the potential impacts from large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska was released earlier this week by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The pictured painted by the assessment is a 

EPA: “Alaska Gold” Mine a Threat to Salmon Fisheries

A large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed area would endanger the world’s largest sockeye salmon fisheries and the Alaska Native communities that depend on them, according to a final assessment released this week by the 

EPA Says Pebble Mine Could Devastate Bristol Bay Salmon Fishery

Earth Island Journal 
Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency released its final study of the impacts of large-scale mining, including the proposed Pebble Mine, on Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The science is clear. Mining the Pebble deposit will have severe and lasting 

Pebble mine poses risks to Bristol Bay salmon, EPA concludes

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its final Bristol Bay Assessment describing potential impacts to salmon and ecological resources from proposed large-scale copper and gold mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The report, titled An 

EPA: Pebble mine poses significant risk to salmon

Anchorage Daily News 
FILE- In this July 13, 2007 file photo, a worker with the Pebble Mine project test drills in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska near the village of Iliamma, Alaska. An EPA report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could have 

EPA: Mining Activity in Alaskan Watershed Harmful to Wildlife

National Journal 
An environmental assessment released Wednesday concludes that industrial-scale mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay Watershed would endanger native species.(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Getty Images). Clare Foran. By Clare Foran · Follow on Twitter.

US EPA publishes ‘final chapter in very sad story’ – Northern Dynasty

Creamer Media’s Mining Weekly
TORONTO ( – The proponent of one of the largest undeveloped minerals resources left in the world, on Thursday said US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) final version of its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (BBWA) was “really 

EPA Critique Of Pebble Copper-Gold Mine Draws Praise, Blame From 

International Business Times
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has signed off on a key scientific report that says a potential giant Alaskan copper and gold mine poses serious environmental and ecological threats. Environmentalists hailed the EPA document while industry 

Agency concludes mining would hurt Alaskan salmon

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that Alaskan salmon would suffer if a mine were to be dug in Bristol Bay. There is a large deposit of copper and gold in the Bristol Bay watershed, known as the Pebble Deposit. Northern Dynasty 

Climate Change Wakes the Dead, Big Blow to Alaska’s Pebble Mine, WV Water 

OnEarth Magazine 
Final assessment: The Environmental Protection Agency released its long-awaited assessment of the ecological impact of the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay yesterday. Basically, the EPA says the massive pit mine would “erase” up to 94 miles 

EPA: Pebble Mine Means ‘Long-Term Risk To Salmon, Wildlife, And Native 

This June. 12, 2003 photo provided by the Bureau of Land Management shows a stream flowing through the Bristol Bay, Alaska watershed. CREDIT: AP Photo/Bureau of Land Management. On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency released what 

Large-Scale Copper and Gold Mining In Bristol Bay Poses Major Risks, EPA Finds

Bloomberg BNA
Jan. 15 — A large-scale copper and gold mine operation in Bristol Bay, Alaska, poses significant near- and long-term risks to the region, an Environmental Protection Agency assessment released Jan. 15 found. The assessment found large-scale mining 

Jewelers, Fisherman Urge EPA to Safeguard Bristol Bay

RAPAPORT… The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final report on Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, where the proposed Pebble gold and copper mine is located, and concluded that mineral extraction could have a devastating impact on 

Gold And Copper Mining Plan In Alaska Would Destroy The World’s Largest 

Business Insider 
Sockeye salmon are seen in Bristol Bay, Alaska, in an undated handout picture provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A large-scale gold and copper mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region would devastate the world’s largest salmon fisheries, 

EPA: Alaska mine threatens salmon, native cultures

The Malay Mail Online
Sockeye salmon are seen in Bristol Bay, Alaska in an undated handout picture provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses serious risks to salmon and native cultures in this pristine corner of 

Mining could devastate Bristol Bay region

Juneau Empire
In this July 13, 2007 file photo, a worker with the Pebble Mine project test drills in the Bristol Bay region near the village of Iliamma. An EPA report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in the Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the 

Image Selected for Exhibit

Monday, November 25th, 2013
Image Selected for Exhibit

Alatna Headwaters


In 2007, I had the pleasure of spending two weeks in Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve as the park’s Artist-in-Residence. During part of that trip, I camped at the headwaters of the Alatna River, one of several designated Wild and Scenic Rivers within the park.  During one evening hike, as I and my companion, National Park Ranger Tracy Pendergrast, were hiking back to our camp, I noticed the amazing golden light striking the mountains opposite of the headwaters from us.  It was about 11:00 p.m. and the light was really hitting that amazing quality it gets in late evening.  I set up this shot, and felt that it so well represented this part of the park – the open treeless landscape, the diversity of tiny plants covering the alpine slopes, the dramatic mountains of the Brooks Range, and the amazing Arctic light. This image was one of three framed prints I donated to the park as part of my artist residency.

Well, as it turns out, the staff at Gates of the Arctic felt that it really represented the park, too.  This image has been chosen to represent Gates of the Arctic at an exhibit that will be traveling around in Alaska in 2014.  Entitled “Voices of the Wilderness,” the exhibit will celebrate the 50th anniversary of passage of the Wilderness Act and highlight Alaska’s wild lands. I am pleased and honored to have my image selected for this important exhibit.  It has always been my goal and desire that my photography be used to highlight the value and importance of wilderness.  Given the magnitude and importance of the Wilderness Act, I am pleased to hear that this exhibit will be celebrating Alaska’s magnificent wild lands.  I hope that it is well viewed throughout the state, and it reminds people of the inherent value of wilderness.

At this time, the exhibition schedule is as follows:

Feb 2014: Sitka—Sitka National Historical Park

May 2014: Ketchikan—Tongass Historical Museum

June 2014: Juneau—The Canvas

July-September 2014:  Fairbanks—Morris Thompson Cultural Center

November 2014-February 2015:  Anchorage—Anchorage Museum

Two Cover Images Selected

Thursday, October 10th, 2013
Two Cover Images Selected

If you know great Alaskan-themed photo calendars, you know about the collection created each year by local publishing firm, Greatland Graphics. They produce three wall calendars (Northern Light: Alaska Wildlife & Wilderness, Denali Wildlife & Wilderness, and Aurora: Alaska’s Northern Lights) and two daytimer calenders (Alaska Time and Alaska Engagement) each year, featuring splendidly gorgeous images from dozen photographers, featuring everything from the micro to the macro of Alaska’s beauty.

I have been submitting images to Greatland Graphics for a decade. There were several years earlier on when I did not have any images selected. I don’t envy Ed and Alissa, the founders and owners of Greatland Graphics, their daunting task of selecting images for their calendars.  In recent years, they have had to consider approximately 20,000 submissions from 50 photographers, and narrowing down the selection to only 150 images for inclusion in their calendars and note cards.

This year, I had my best year yet for selections.  Five separate images were selected for use in four calendars, including two images that will be used a second time as cover images.  That’s right, two of the five 2015 calendars will feature my images on their covers. The aurora photo will also be featured in the Greatland Graphics note card line. Woo hoo! So, when those calendars are available for sale in local stores starting early 2014, look for the moose and aurora image featured in this blog post and you will know they are mine. I will also have some available for sale if you would like to order some directly from me.

The aurora borealis image was captured during an intense and amazing aurora storm that hit on the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day this year.  The moose was from last year. I captured her near the bend where O’Malley Road becomes Minnesota Drive in south Anchorage.

Gorgeous day in Prince William Sound

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013
Gorgeous day in Prince William Sound

Prince William Sound, particularly the town of Whittier, is known for its crappy weather.  So to plan to do a photo shoot for a particular day and to have that day to be a calm, sunny one … well, it’s like hitting the photo weather lottery.

I went out with Mike from Lazy Otter Water Taxi to test a new piece of custom gear specifically designed to aid in boat-based wildlife photography with a long lens. It also involved a TV crew, shooting for a show that, for now, must go unnamed.

We went out on the Qayaq Chief, a 40-foot craft with a front ramp that can be lowered for bow landings and drop-offs out in the Sound. The forecastle area was rather spacious, allowing me to move around from one side to the other, reacting to wildlife as we spotted it. And while it was later in the season than usual, we still had some good luck with wildlife.  Visiting Beloit and Blackstone Glaciers, we saw a large number of Brandt’s Cormorants – as many as eight in one group – floating, sitting on flat, floating pieces of glacial ice, gliding by against the ice-gouged landscape. We also encountered a couple of solo sea otters with young, and a small raft of sea otters.

It’s always amazing to get up close to these glaciers, seeing their massiveness from the water, observing the scar in the deep bedrock that is left behind as the glaciers retreat. It is difficult to photographically capture the scale of these rivers of ice, but when I can, I try to show it through some foreground element, like a tree or boat. But the other thing that you cannot capture is the amazing sounds. At one point, as we were floating through a patch of small bits of ice, I could hear a crackling sound in the water (like Rice Crispies), small chunks of ice bouncing off the keel of the boat, and the roar of a distant, massive waterfall. And then, occasionally, the cracking, thundering sound of the glacier calving.

And while it may not have been a major wildlife bonanza, it was a great day to be out on a boat in Prince William Sound.


The diminishment of the pro photographer

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
The diminishment of the pro photographer

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, kicked off a bit of a storm in the photography world at a media event yesterday. Announcing new changes in Flickr and some Yahoo acquisitions, she remarked that there were “no professional photographers anymore” but rather people of “different skill levels.”  The statement was made to justify Flickr’s elimination of the Flickr Pro level of account (don’t worry, if you had such an account prior to May 20, 2013, you will be able to keep it if you like).  You can see the video of the whole Yahoo! event here – the comments come at 46:20.

The response has been rather interesting, from outrage over the disparagement of photojournalists throughout history, to indifference (“who cares what anyone says … if I cared about respect, I would’ve become a lawyer”) to economic (“Just canceled my Flickr Pro account.”)

When it comes down to it, this statement, by the CEO of the company with one of the world’s largest online digital libraries, is further evidence of how the explosion of digital photography (and the proliferation of micro stock sites) has generally eroded appreciation for professional photographers. We live in an age where the purchase of a DSLR somehow gives someone the impression that they are now a professional photographer. 

Facebook is rife with pages set up by Joe Schmoe Photography or Jane Doe Photography, yet a review of the “company’s” images indicates that the photographer is an amateur or hobbyist at best.  Further research would likely reveal that the proprietor of the account likely does not have a business license, does not sell images online, does not maintain a physical gallery or studio, or fails to have any other combination of factors displaying the indicia of a real business.  The photographer likely does not have any formal training or is a member of any professional photography association.   I have received many requests to “Like” such photo pages, and, after reviewing the images on their wall, refused to respond to such requests.

The same goes with how the explosion of the digital age has led people to doubt that a strong, dynamic image can be real (“Pondering the question ‘Is that Photoshopped’?“) while simultaneously creating a phenomenon where people easily believe that an obviously manufactured image is somehow a “photograph.”

And since so many people have cameras and claim they are “pros,” more and more people do not question themselves first before they ask a professional photographer for free photos.  I have been asked more than once if someone could just get a download of an image so they could make a print of one of my photos on their home printer, or want a free download to use as a desktop on their computer, or want to use one of my images in their publication for free (“But, we’ll give you credit for the photo!”).  These requests suggest that, since it is so easy to take a photo these days, photos aren’t worth much. Quite the contrary, as a lot of work goes into creating spectacular images, and doing so as a business.

Part of me says, “Well, real professional photographers can still distinguish themselves by having images of superior quality, composition, lighting and all of those other things that make a strong image.” But yet, my observations on social media belie that small bit of comfort.  People are more apt to “Like” a crappy image on Facebook if it is from a location they have heard of than a far superior image from some location remote and foreign to them.  Or they will “Like” an image that is obviously a grotesquely manufactured graphic illustration, commenting “Beautiful photo!” “No, it’s not a photo!” I scream in my head.

The explosion in digitial photography has led to the diminishment of professional photographers because the consumers themselves have become so saturated with crap they don’t even know what constitutes good photography anymore.  And perhaps that is what really lies at the heart of Ms. Mayer’s comments, and at what she and other business executives expect to be at the heart of their clientele – consumers with a lot of money who are spending it on their own capacity to take images while simultaneously becoming more and more immune to an understanding of the art itself. It has become less about quality and more about quantity.  But, I suppose, with Flickr’s business model, how many photos are uploaded (and how much storage space is needed) is all that matters, not whether the art of photography – and the pros who rely on it – is being furthered in any meaningful way.

Naval Iron(y)

Sunday, May 5th, 2013
Naval Iron(y)

When I enlisted in the Navy in the summer of 1986, I really didn’t know much about what I wanted to do.  I thought maybe avionics would be interesting (my father, after all, had been a fire control technician in the Air Force for 20 years), but I would have to wait months for the A-School to have an opening and spend my time as a boatswain’s mate in the meantime.  No thanks.  So, I signed up as an Operations Specialist – operating radar and tactical data systems.

But months after arriving on board my first command, the U.S.S. Haleakala (AE-25), I learned of a chance to do a collateral duty as ship’s photographer.  When growing up, I had this little Kodak Instamatic X-15 camera that I took everywhere; even saved it from drowning when I fell in the creek back home on a summer adventure. I thought that learning how to be a photographer would be fun.  So, I volunteered to take on the role as Ship’s Photographer and immediately went to the base exchange to buy my first single lens reflex (SLR) camera: a Minolta X-700.  I really didn’t know anything about setting exposures and taking pictures.  Fortunately, the Navy sent me to a naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, to attend Intelligence Photography School.  In a few weeks, I learned exposure control, the basics of composition, and how to develop my own black and white film – Kodak Tech Pan 2415 film. It was also around that time I took on another complimentary collateral duty – the role of Enlisted Intelligence Assistant, which elevated my Secret clearance to Top Secret.  I would become an integral part of the intelligence gathering capacity of our ship when we encountered Soviet craft.

But my role as a photographer on the Haleakala went beyond leading the “Snoopy Team” to photograph and document encounters with Soviet aircraft and ships; it became a way of life that consumed me during my times off watch or when in port and we had “knocked off ship’s work.”  I was called upon to photograph re-enlistment ceremonies, fire drills, visiting Admirals, and whatever else was needed.  I beamed with pride to see my first photo published in the Apra Harbor Naval Station (Guam) newspaper: a shot of a Soviet AGI we had encountered out at sea.  I even photographed my first wedding, a traditional Navy wedding on the signal bridge of the ship, officiated by the ship’s Commanding Officer.

When I transferred to my second command, a Spruance Class destroyer named the U.S.S. David R. Ray (DD-971), I continued to serve as Ship’s Photographer, but in a much expanded capacity.  The David R. Ray had just completed a long drydock period to convert her forward box launchers to a new vertical launch system (VLS) to accommodate her new contingent of Tomahawk missiles.  A lengthy sea trial period followed, where we tested the Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAMs) and Tomahawk anti-ship missiles (TASMs).  We also tested a new Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) launching system.  And all along, part of my job was to document the testing.  It was amazing what I was capable of doing with a manual focus lens and no motor drive – just the manual crank to advance my film.  I was also tasked with taking the new post-drydock official photo of the ship – from the open door of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.  And again, ceremonies, visitors, ports of call; all came part of my growing development as a photographer, as a photojournalist.

My passion for photography had grown so much, it lead me to the inevitable conclusion: I needed to cross-rate from Operations Specialist to Photographer’s Mate. And the timing was perfect.  It was coming time for me to re-enlist, the natural time to make the change from one rating to another. If I had stayed on as an Operations Specialist, I would have collected a re-enlistment bonus of $17,500, would have made E-6 within a year, and would only have to re-enlist for four years.  In contrast, my re-enlistment to become a Photographer’s Mate would have been a mandatory six years, I would essentially have to start all over as an E-5 (and thus greatly extend my advancement to E-6), and there would be no re-enlistment bonus.  It was an easy decision; I wanted to be a photographer full-time. But there was one catch.  Cross-rate switches from a low CREO (Career Re-Enlistment Objective) group to a high CREO group was automatic.  But crossing from a high one to a low one – that is, from Operations Specialist to Photographer’s Mate – would have required special consideration.  My Executive Officer, who despised Operations personnel, refused to submit the paperwork: “It’s a waste of the Navy’s time,” he said.  This he said to a sailor who had been selected as Junior Sailor of the Year on his first command, was awarded Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist status as a Petty Officer Third Class (unheard of in 1988), and had been awarded the Navy Achievement Medal.  “A waste of the Navy’s time.”  With that, I left the Navy, took my GI Bill, and went to college.

While I did not major in photography when I attended college after leaving the Navy, I took some classes and continued to develop as a photographer.  After college, I worked for a national portrait company as well as a local sports photography company.  I delved into nature photography as a result of working for two summers as a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota.  And then, in Law School, I was shooting freelance for the University of Minnesota campus paper as well as being the lead photographer and photo editor for the Law School newspaper.  And then, in 1999, I moved to Alaska – more than a decade after I had volunteered to serve as Ship’s Photographer on the Haleakala.

And over the decade that followed, my photography exploded. I started my own photography business and provided photo services for many clients, from local businesses to the internationally famous Tony Robbins.  I captured portraits and preserved the wonder of weddings.  I photographed hundreds of sporting events, from every high school sport played in Anchorage, to the Iditarod and the Great Alaska Shootout, to serving as the team photographer to Alaska’s first professional football team, the Alaska Wild.

My photography work took me from the southeast of the state in Juneau to the farthest reaches north of the oil fields of the North Slope.  And along the way, I was never denied access.  I was able to acquire the necessary media credentials to photograph in the restricted areas for the Iditarod and the Great Alaska Shootout, to access military installations such as Fort Richardson and Elemendorf Air Force Base.  I was even granted access to the most restricted region of the entire state of Alaska – the oilfields of the North Slope inside the British Petroleum security zone.  I even had the pleasure of serving the Navy again, capturing crew portraits of the U.S.S. Peleliu (LHA-5) as she transited from San Diego to Pearl Harbor.

But I haven’t just had a diverse photographic career with an impressive client list, I am slowly building a strong list of publications, awards and artist residencies.

So, when the Office of the Major of Anchorage sent out an invitation for the media to attend a briefing and receive media credentials for the arrival and commissioning of the U.S.S. Anchorage (LPD-23), I jumped at the opportunity. I attended the briefing, took copious notes, collected a media briefing packet, and looked forward to having the access to document the first Navy vessel ever commissioned in my new home state.  It seemed a perfect merging of my photographic origins and where my photography has taken me – to Alaska – with great credit to the opportunity that the Navy provided me so many years ago.

And then, the Navy dropped another bowling ball on my head.  I received an email later that day from a Navy PAO (Public Affairs Officer) telling me that unless I was employed by credentialed media (like a newspaper), I would not be granted media access to the ship.  I wrote her back, told her I was a professional photographer represented by Alaska Stock – Alaska’s premiere photo stock agency – and that I was a Navy veteran who had served as a ship’s photographer.  She wrote me back, thanked me for my service, and told me I could try my luck with the other 285,000 people living in Anchorage for a shot at 4,000 tickets to have access to the commissioning ceremony.  All of the tickets were gone the first day they were available, given out at a time I was unable to even attempt to get any.

When I read the Anchorage Daily Newsaccount of the commissioning ceremony, I read of the proud Navy veterans who live in Anchorage and were able to attend the ceremony.  Well, here is one proud Navy veteran who owes his career as a photographer to the Navy, and I was specifically told to stay away.  How’s that for irony – and twice in my life that the Navy has not only denied me opportunity, but denied itself the opportunity to reap the fruits of its own investment in me.  And, quite frankly, from the published photos I have seen of the Anchorage and the commissioning ceremony, the Navy would have been wise to let me come on board.