Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Artificial Lighting Banned in Grand Teton

The Thomas A. Moulton Barn illuminated with Low Level Lighting at about 2:00am, in order to align it with a mid-July Milky Way. The lights are left on during the full 25-seconds exposure, and were dimmed to output less light than a Quarter Phase Moon. In fact, the light is so dim it takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to see the effect on the barn —until then, you have to rely on the greater sensitivity of your camera to see what is happening. At the time, I did not know that artificial lighting was not allowed in the park! © Royce Bair

Night photography that uses artificial lighting is not allowed in Grand Teton National Park. This policy applies to all Grand Teton National Park visitors, including commercial operators.  Any operator found using artificial lighting outside of a headlamp for walking safety and red lights inherent on camera equipment may be subject to a written citation.

The ban on artificial lighting is not new. This policy has been around for many years. The park’s compendium language states, "The Superintendent has determined that prohibiting the use of such devices is necessary for the protection of wildlife." This restriction, in section 2.2(e), is found on page 19 of the 38-page Grand Teton National Park Superintendent's Compendium.

Since most of us don't take the time to fully read such lengthy documents, it's not surprising that I've overlooked this restriction in years past. However, during this year's CUA application process for a photo workshop permit, this restriction was brought to my attention. Instead of taking the normal few weeks to get a permit, it took several months. In the end, I and all other commercial operators are being made aware of this ban on artificial lighting. (I know of about a dozen photo workshop operators in the park who show artificially lit Teton features on their websites. This change may come as a surprise to many photographers!)

Both of these photos of the John Mouton Barn and homestead were taken in June and illuminated with Low Level Lighting. At the time, I did not know that artificial lighting was not allowed in the park! Click images to enlarge. © Royce Bair 

Alternatives to artificial lighting in Grand Teton: The Moulton Barns are popular and historic man-made structures in the park. They and the Chapel of the Transfiguration are the only features I've ever lit within the park. There are over a dozen other natural park features that I regularly photograph at night without the use of any artificial light, so this restriction will have little impact on my NightScape style photo workshops within the Tetons!

Even the man-made structures can easily be photographed without artificial light, using additional longer exposures for the foreground and blending those exposures with the sky exposure(s).

Manish Mamtani took this photo of the Thomas A. Moulton Barn without the use of any artificial lighting. © Manish Mamtani

Teton wildlife and artificial lighting: Section 2.2(e) of the Superintendent's Compendium states, "Viewing of wildlife with any type of artificial light is prohibited in the park and the parkway. This prohibition conforms to Wyoming State Law (W.S. 23-3-306). The Superintendent has determined that prohibiting the use of such devices is necessary for the protection of wildlife."

A closer look at section W.S. 23-3-306 of the Wyoming State Law reveals that it prohibits the... “Use of aircraft, automobiles, motorized and snow vehicles and artificial light for hunting or fishing…” and that “(b) No person shall take any wildlife with the aid of or by using any artificial light or lighting device...”

This law is all about the use of artificial light to take (kill) wildlife. The state restriction is only against the hunting and taking of wildlife via the use of artificial light and motorized vehicles. I would have to have a firearm and dead animals in my possession to be in violation of the state law.

So, does the park Superintendent's ban on the use of any artificial light (other than the use of headlamps to get safely to our night photo locations) within the park help protect the wildlife and eliminate the disturbance of their natural habits? That's certainly debatable, especially compared to the havoc automobile headlights have within the park. And, Low Level Landscape Lighting is about 40 times less powerful than most headlamps.

Still, I believe we should be grateful that all night photography was not banned from the Tetons. This restriction on artificial lighting is only a minor inconvenience compared to not being able to photograph the stars over such a magnificent setting!

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