On Tuesday, August 9, I was sitting along Highway 14A in Spearfish Canyon, about two miles south of the north Canyon entrance at Spearfish. I was photographing passers-by as I have done in roughly the same area for three years. I have had a series of signs letting folks know from either direction that they are in danger of being photographed and where they can find their photos if they want to look. It's been a good business (sturgis.com).
Well, as I said I was sitting with a friend who dropped by from Philadelphia with whom I managed to have a pretty nice conversation because it was just him and me and the folks riding by. Then a Forest Service outfit cuts off the view to the west and parks a few feet off my port beam. I get up to see what's....
"Do you know you're on the Forest," the ranger asks. "What does that mean to me?" I asked.
"From the signs you have posted, it appears you're conducting commercial activity on the Forest. Do you have a permit?"
I didn't. I had, after all, sat along the road in roughly the same place, with the same signs, for a total of about 24 days during the highest-traffic periods of each of the two precedent years and this year. No one had mentioned "permit" to me until last Tuesday.
In the consequential conversations I had with the ranger and with personnel at the Forest Service office in Spearfish, I felt like the people with whom I conversed wanted to take a shower after hearing me combine the terms "commercial activity" and "Forest" in the same sentence. In any case, their position is that if I want to photograph people on the highway within the boundaries of the National Forest, I have to apply for a permit with a non-refundable fee of at least $110, which they may deny on a whim. For the specifics of my application, should I choose to submit it, there would be a minimum of an additional $75 per day for each day I sat along the road and shot. I am not at all sure they would allow the display of the signs that would tell people to look for their pix at sturgis.com. Without those signs, there's no use doing the gig.
I think I have already paid for my use of the National Forest, at least to the extent that I interfere with anyone else's use of the Forest. Part of every dollar I have ever spent has eventually been allocated to the National Forest. We'll see who wins that philosophical potential impasse.
For the period from Aug 9 until the end of the Rally, I sat north of the Forest boundary in the Canyon. Mornings found me near the shooting range about a mile into the Canyon. People were firing machine guns and .50 sniper rounds and detonating flash-bangs. It's part of what you get when rent-a-cops from all over the country converge on a barrel of fish.