Commercial Videography and Photography Permits

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Attention Drone Users: The use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS/drones) is no longer allowed for any US Fish and Wildlife Service supported or permitted use. This prohibition applies to the use of drones for commercial filming and scientific research, even if the use of drones was previously authorized via special use permit. Secretarial Order 3379, issued by Interior Secretary Bernhardt on January 29, 2020, mandates that all non-emergency UAS flights cease until further notice. UAS flights in support of emergencies, such as wildfires and search and rescue missions, will continue.

Permits are required for all commercial videography, including filming of documentaries, travelogues, feature stories, and advertising. News gathering organizations are exempt from fee, insurance, and bonding requirements, but may require a Special Use Permit to ensure compatibility with Refuge purposes, public use, ongoing research, or to protect Refuge resources. Because of this, an early teleconference or a meeting between Refuge staff and the project leader is recommended. A $100 fee may be required.

In addition to your permit application, you will also need to submit a State of Alaska business license and a narrative letter addressed to the Refuge Manager. (Guidance for film narrative letter.) (75 kb PDF file)

Commercial filming is generally prohibited in wilderness unless deemed necessary to manage the area as wilderness. Familiarize yourself with the wilderness boundary in Arctic Refuge.

If you plan to commercially film or photograph polar bears on Refuge lands or waters. The following information applies:

The lagoon waters surrounding Barter Island are under Refuge jurisdiction. If you plan to conduct commercial filming or photography on Refuge waters, you are required to have a Refuge-issued commercial filming/photography special use permit; and use the services of a Refuge-permitted boat operating business. This combination allows you to conduct filming and/or photography activities that do not change the behavior of polar bears. Permitted boat operators are required to operate in a way that does not affect polar bear behavior. Your activities would be held to the same standard.

If your filming and/or photography has the potential to disrupt a bear’s natural behavior, you are also required to – in advance of your activity – obtain through the Division of Management Authority (DMA) a separate, additional permit which authorizes limited disturbance to polar bears. Having a DMA permit authorizes your project a prescribed level and quantity of disturbance. Work with your boat operator to stay within the limits of your prescribed disturbance levels and quantities.

If disturbance to polar bears occurs as a result of your activities and you do not have a DMA permit (or you violate the conditions of your DMA permit), you would be in violation of the Marine Mammals Protection Act and/or the Endangered Species Act and you could be held legally responsible.

Businesses seeking to operate in winter and spring should apply in the October 1 to November 30 application period in the year prior to operation. Businesses seeking to operate in summer and fall should apply January 1 to April 15 in the current year. If sending by mail, permit applications postmarked by the end-date of each application period will be accepted. 

Download the commercial permit application. (275 kb PDF file)

After you have completed the permit, remember to include your narrative letter. (Guidance for film narrative letter.) (75 kb PDF file) 

Email the completed application and narrative letter to arctic_permits@fws.gov or mail to 101 12th Avenue Room 236, Fairbanks, AK 99701. 

There is an administrative fee of $100 that must be submitted with the application. You can call 907-456-0512 to submit credit card payment over the phone or send a check through the mail to 101 12th Avenue Room 236, Fairbanks, AK 99701.

If you have any questions, call 907-456-0512.

Additional permits may be required if photographing/filming polar bears or other marine mammals for commercial or educational purposes. Information about this process is available at Guidelines for Commercial or Educational Photography and Filming of Polar Bears.