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What Would Ansel Think?

May 26 2010 by Peter Morrill

"There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs."
Ansel Adams, 1902-1984

For almost 30 years I've had the privilege of being associated with Outdoor Idaho. In 1983, along with Royce Williams and soon thereafter Bruce Reichert, I was part of the team that began an ever-evolving, three decade journey chronicling the secrets of our state.

Through the lens of Outdoor Idaho, our cameras and journalists have traveled the state capturing its grandeur and stories in award-winning programs like "Sawtooth Silver Anniversary," "Frank Church Wilderness," "Owyhee Canyonlands" and "A Middle Fork Journey." These programs and related Web sites are made available free to Idahoans of all ages, via our statewide television service and our Web site at idahoptv.org.

So, early last week I was baffled when the U.S. Forest Service barred Outdoor Idaho from filming the story of a group of young people from the Student Conservation Association/Idaho AmeriCorps who were going into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area to conduct trail maintenance. We thought it would make for compelling storytelling to hear and see a cross-section of Generation Y students experience the challenges of the Frank. We had already begun documenting this Forest Service-sanctioned group over the last few weeks as they prepared for their project.

The Forest Service's written explanation for barring Outdoor Idaho was that "this sort of filming is commercial and thus not allowed in the wilderness area. There really seems to be no grey area on this topic."

Commercial? No grey area on this topic?

Yes, I agree there is no grey area on these points. The only profits that are gained from our efforts are realized through better programming and Web content for our viewers.

Idaho Public Television is a public service enterprise. We're licensed by the Federal Communications Commission as a non-commercial broadcaster. We are an entity of the Idaho State Board of Education, and owned by the people of the State of Idaho. Our Friends of Idaho Public Television, Inc., which assists us in obtaining private financial support group, is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) organization. It's quite simple: we're here to serve the people of our state. We are not commercial.

Over the past week while working through these issues with the Forest Service, I contemplated what Ansel Adams would have thought of our situation. Here's a man who gave the world a remarkable gift of images of our country's most treasured wilderness areas, pictures that inspired countless people to be advocates of preserving our country's iconic landscapes.

I also wondered whether his efforts would have been barred under current rules. Would the Forest Service policy have determined that Adams' efforts were commercial in nature?

No one will ever know.

I do believe Outdoor Idaho's dilemma will have a happy ending.

Through the advocacy of Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter and Congressmen Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick, the Forest Service on Friday, May 21, reassessed their decision and granted Outdoor Idaho access to begin filming in the Frank. In addition, the Forest Service announced their intent to revise the current policy for media related activities.

I want to personally thank Governor Otter and Congressmen Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick for their timely and extensive assistance. I also want to tip my hat to the dedicated men and women of the U.S. Forest Service, ably led by Chief Tom Tidwell. These folks take their jobs as seriously as they do their commitment to protect the people's land.

So what would Ansel think of all of this? I suspect he would be smiling in the belief that the Forest Service, Idaho Public Television and policy leaders all learned a little more about each other's important missions.

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