Fed claims you need a permit to dig in the sand

A Fed from seeking a justification for chasing off reporters who're digging in the Florida sand to examine the efficacy of BP's oil-spill-mitigation efforts has scraped the bottom of the barrel: he claimed that you need a license to build a sand castle.

"Are you digging for oil product?" the official asked. When Thomas did not immediately confirm his intentions, the man threatened to call law enforcement and advised the journalist to move down the beach.

Moments later, an officer of the National Parks Service was demanding the reporter identify himself, insisting over and over, "you can't dig."

"So, no sand castles?" Thomas asked. "None of that, huh?"

"You're right," the officer replied.

Building sand castles on Florida's beaches is illegal, feds tell oil-hunting reporter (via Consumerist)

(Image: Sand Castle in the Sun, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from gilichu's photostream)


  1. It would be nice if you included the bit about everyone, including BP, being blocked from digging more than 6″ below the surface.

    Doing so requires a federal waiver from the Department of Interior because of the National Historic Preservation Act…

    Someone should also inform the robot featured above that our well-paid bureaucrats are dragging their feet on this one, and that sand castles are indeed legal.

    1. I’ll second that explanation as well. The Law Enforcement Ranger failed to communicate the concept well, but the policy is no digging to protect both natural and cultural resources preserved below the ground.

      Does it mean the policy should be enforced with soviet-like precision, especially on a swimming beach? No. But LE rangers rarely think about the PR nightmare they’ll spawn by acting more like robocops and less like reasonable resource stewards. Did the reporter push him into a corner? Maybe.

      Now, the no filming thing? He’s sort of right. There’s not supposed to be filming for commercial purposes on NPS land without talking to the park’s PR officer first and obtaining permission. Again, though, there is a difference between a reporter or tourist filming in a park, and a multi-million dollar hollywood production crew. It’s the inability of these guys (and it is chiefly the male LE rangers) to be human and see gradation in “wrong” which causes these problems.

  2. It kind of makes sense though. How would it be if hordes of people decided to turn up on public land and start mining away? There seems nothing unreasonable about this regulation. Sounds more like the two officials got their rules mixed up and gave the reporter conflicting instructions.

  3. Sorry, I’ve tried to read that first sentence 6 times now and my brain hurts.

    A Fed from < ,> seeking a justification for chasing off reporters who’re digging in the Florida sand to examine the efficacy of BP’s oil-spill-mitigation efforts, scraped the bottom of the barrel: he claimed that you need a license to build a sand castle.

  4. I tried to edit Cory’s comment to make sense, but it got discombobulated.

    Was trying to say:
    A Fed, seeking a justification for chasing off reporters who’re digging in the Florida sand to examine the efficacy of BP’s oil-spill-mitigation efforts, scraped the bottom of the barrel: he claimed that you need a license to build a sand castle.

  5. Of course it’s not about sand castles. They were asking if he had a permit to do what in fact he was there to do – his obfuscation was juvenile, and the NPS officer fell victim to some simple Socratic Method.

    I hate when rabble-rousers shift the issue just because they got caught doing something they shouldn’t have been doing – instead of arguing the merits of whatever it is they’re actually doing.

    Just because the officer got tied up in the moment and acknowledged something silly doesn’t mean the antagonist is clever or right.

    1. You mean that you think reporters should not be able to dig in the sand in order to report on the efficacy of the cleanup operation?

      Whyever not?

    2. So the reporter investigating the clean up is a rabble rouser and to be looked down on? I thought the press was there to inform us on things like this… oh wait you must be a proponent of censored propaganda only media outlets? huh wut?

    3. To clarify for the silly sods – I hate rabble-rousers like this one, because they make it harder for the rest of us rabble-rousers.

      Even if your objective is to cause shenanigans, you still have to do it with some panache – and a good argument. This had neither.

      Shouting “you ain’t got no pancake mix” isn’t – well, actually, that *was* kinda funny. Bad example.

      1. “It’s against the law to dig? Do you stop kids from making sandcastles?” is a bad argument? I read it less as disingenuity about what he is doing, and more shock that there could possibly be such a blanket prohibition. Your objection doesn’t make sense to me.

  6. Have you ever taken a really good look at a beach? It’s crawling with life. Who knows what kind of seemingly harmless behavior might disturb it. Things like baby sea turtles come to mind.

    I don’t know the specifics of this situation and I don’t care. I trust the national park management. We hired them to maintain our wilderness and if they say not to dig deeper than six inches there’s probably a reason.

    1. You are right, Anon. We must trust the national park management to save the beaches from the depredations of baby sea turtles!

      Research, criticism (or even critical thought for that matter) must not be used here if we are to remain Free [tm]. What we need now is total blind trust in our government, under God.

      Good thing BP is on the job. They will take care of those damned terrorist turtles, and keep the beaches of America safe for resource extraction by multinational corporations.

    2. Sea Turtles are protected and I never see anyone bother them, at least in Florida. I forget exactly when, but it’s during a couple of months in the winter, otherwise I have never even seen a sea turtle. The areas where eggs are buried are well marked during the few months that they spawn. It is obvious where they do this, usually at night and leaving a large path in the sand and the eggs are relocated or marked off with orange tape. Not a good argument making your comment as silly as the feds in this story.

      “Sea turtles are almost always submerged in water, and, therefore, have developed an anaerobic system of respiration.”

  7. Wow, Cory. You achieved a sort of poetry with that first sentence. It’s a painful and violent verse, and, should I stare at it any longer, I should think myself moved to embark on a mad and frothing killing spree.

  8. Reminds me of when I was a kid in the ’70s. My grandparents lived in Crystal River, FL, and my brothers and I (along with the neighbor kids) tried to dig a hole to China. We only got four feet down before we hit a concrete pad.

  9. It’s obvious the camera crew attracted all the attention.

    They should try it again in a few days, just walking around in tank tops and flip flops and filming with Flip cameras.

  10. Actually your title is incomplete:

    It should state you need a permit to dig in a federal park.

    I’m sure it wouldn’t be a big deal to visit Yellow Stone and breakout your highly modded Husky 372xp chainsaw to clear off some land for them, right?

    I know in most federal/state parks you can’t do things like dig/excavate, build fires, cut down trees, ect.. I’m pretty sure there are rules like this for a reason.

    1. Have you never dug a hole in the sand at the beach; perhaps to bury a friend of to shelter yourself from the wind? I think your saying cutting down Yellowstone trees is the same as digging in the sand is disingenuous at best.

  11. For some reason I can’t log into this thread. It’s Master Pokes, repeating myself from the comment section of an earlier thread. “Remember when we used to have civil liberties and stuff. Fun times.”

  12. Some nuggets I took away from this…a commenter stating the reporter got caught doing something he shouldn’t be doing and, always a favorite, the asking for the papers.

    I’m flashing back to the Bush years where we instructed to watch what we say, while flashing forward to the future where we all become Arizona. Weird.

  13. You have to understand that this was in a National Seashore area, and there are certain restrictions, particularly for the protection of wildlife. If a reporter unwittingly digs for tar balls but ends up cracking the shell of a sea turtle egg, oops?

    I don’t get to take my dog into National Parks, so I don’t think anyone should be surprised that reporters are not allowed to dig holes in the sand.

  14. I have dug holes and built sand castles in National Sea Shores and National Parks all my life. I have seen thousands of people do it.

    I have never harmed a sea turtle egg, or been accosted by a ranger.

    I heard you like some apologies with your apologism, yo.

  15. http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2002/julqtr/36cfr2.1.htm

    Check out section 2.1a.

    Digging is, in fact, illegal in national parks without a permit. It’s almost like we want to protect them from being destroyed by clueless tourists or something. Whodathunkit.

    Yes, a beach is a place where you would expect some leniency since kids build sand castles and stuff, but the reporter was being an ass about it. I would have made him stop too.

  16. I for one am very heartened that our brave national park services police are so effective at their jobs they can find time to demand “papers” from the press and enforce rules to prevent the construction of dangerous sand structures.

    Other projects they can undertake with all this free time polishing the pebbles in Yellowstone’s streams, teaching bears the finer points of calculus, and making sure than anyone photographing the Grand Tetons is capturing just the right amount of majesty as required by law.

  17. From Reddit user tuolumne

    This story actually makes a lot of sense if you look at it through the lens of the location (Gulf Islands National Seashore) and who is in charge of the location (the National Park Service).

    The NPS was established in 1916 to:

    promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

    Over the years the NPS has come to integrate things like National Historic Sites and National Seashores under its umbrella of protection. The NPS looks to preserve these resources for intrinsic reasons, and so that generations and generations can enjoy these locations. However, it has been held in court that before people can recreate and enjoy these areas, the health, safety and longevity of the resource must come first.

    Now lets talk digging. Typically we dont allow digging here in Yosemite, as our visitors can unearth historical objects, which they then relocate and or mysteriously take home. I had a group of boy scouts that unearthed some objects recently and brought them to my location to show me what they found. Our policy is that you cannot move these objects and the boy scouts couldn’t figure out where they got said objects from. Just an example of why you dont want to dig in Yosemite.

    Also, it’s not just historical or cultural objects that we’re concerned about but also wildlife habitat. The National Parks exist to preserve a section of the country, not just land and scenery but everything within the boundary: the wildlife, historical, cultural objects, etc. By digging around you can be disturbing habitat. Recently here in Yosemite, people have been building rock cairns and disturbing a scorpion habitat in the process. So we knock down said cairns and have to make signs pointing to why. Sounds silly…right? But the purpose of the NPS is first the health of the ecosystem then the enjoyment of the public.

    Gulf Islands National Seashore is one of the most fragile ecosystems in the NPS system when it comes to flora and fauna health. The best example which relates to this story is with the sea turtle. The beginning of the sea turtles life is a very difficult one, and add in the human element then we see even greater difficulties. Guess when the nesting season for sea turtles runs? May to September. We are currently at the end of nesting season. How does this fit with the story?

    Well since the NPS does not want any human-caused disturbances to the sea turtle habitats, we are only allowing for human powered digging on these sites. Why? Because bulldozers running through these areas will destroy this habitat, go against our mission, and actually are illegal in this context. The digging sites are predetermined sites that have been mapped out by biologists who work at the national seashore and have said “it is ok to dig here, no eggs are here”, so we train volunteers to do safe digging only in these areas.

    On top of that when sea turtles lay their eggs in the sand, they lay them between 16″ and 20″, by allowing machines to come through at 18″ you have potential to destroy these eggs.

    Again the purpose of the NPS is the protection and preservation of these animals and their habitat. You may have seen digging on other sites or shores, perhaps Fish and Wildlife, BLM or National Forest Land, well these organizations have accommodated for game management and their sole purpose does not exist around preservation like the NPS’s.

    Now this reporter… the reporter acts as if he is being victimized by being asked to prove he was apart of the media. You need a permit to film in the National Parks, this isn’t any new policy and the reporter should have known that going in. If we didnt have this policy then we could have any sort of reality show coming into Yellowstone and showing people like on the Jersey Shore or whatever playing with Buffalo. We dont want that. It is not what our National Parks are about.

    This reporter wants to dig under 6″. For what purpose? To show that there is oil under 6″? Ok cool, film the trained personnel digging and show there is oil under 6″. He did that, but now he wants to do his own digging. Well lets say reporter digs in this random area and ends up unearthing a bunch of sea turtle eggs. Shit… he just committed a federal crime by harming a federally protected animal. So essentially by not allowing him to dig, the NPS is a) protecting that ecosystem b) protecting that reporter from himself.

    Now I know this issue is complex and the LE ranger who talked to the reporter could have done a better job of interpreting WHY Gulf Islands is doing what it is doing, but I think the NPS was in the right in this story and the reporter was making a big deal out of his own ignorance.

    1. tuolumne from reddit wrote:

      Now this reporter… the reporter acts as if he is being victimized by being asked to prove he was apart of the media. You need a permit to film in the National Parks, this isn’t any new policy and the reporter should have known that going in. If we didnt have this policy then we could have any sort of reality show coming into Yellowstone and showing people like on the Jersey Shore or whatever playing with Buffalo. We dont want that.

      That is ridiculous. That it isn’t a new policy makes it even worse. This land belongs to the people, filming it does not cause any harm, filming, particularly for news, whether or not with “credetials” is a constitutionally protected right, and if anything destructive or otherwise illegal is filmed then the film gives evidence to go after whoever did it. Next they’ll be copyrighting the Grand Canyon and Half Dome. What about going after BP instead for all the oil it left on the beaches?

      As for digging and moving rocks for cairns – he’s worried about the freaking SCORPIONS?! Dude, the scorpions can look out for themselves. Trust me on this. And they like cairns just as much as any other rocks. More, in fact – it’s like a roomy, well ventilated scorpion condo. And I’d like to encourage people hiking in the wilderness for more than a day to dig a little slit latrine rather than shitting on the open ground or hauling around a bunch of plastic bags, many of which will become litter and the rest of which will be quite hazardous to human health as they heat and ferment and pop with methane as they get hauled around for a week in the sun.

    2. Thank you for the detailed comment. If my comment is published, it is far less detailed, but generally in agreement with yours. I suppose regulations have changed over the years, because I played and dug on the beaches of ONP and CAHA as a kid.

  18. “Have you ever taken a really good look at a beach? It’s crawling with life.”

    Not any more it’s not. I’m not aware of any beach life that thrives on oil. Stop being an apologist for every two-bit bureaucrat or law enforcement officer who wants to make up shit and tell you what you can and cannot do.

  19. Are there really that many BoingBoing readers who are against people being able to dig 6+ inches at a beach?

    Have you guys ever been to a beach? You can dig 6+inches just by shifting your feet in the sand or securing an umbrella, or looking for sand crabs or building a sand castle…

    Are these bizarre rabble-rousing activities?

  20. I think we all get what the reporter was trying to address, he just could have done it in a better manner. The issue is that the beaches are NOT ok and that there is an underlying problem that is not being dealt with for whatever reason you want to label it as, it is still not being fixed. It is absurd to not let people know what is wrong with the beaches. Not that we don’t already know it anyway.

    As for the sea turtle eggs, most if not all sites where eggs are laid are marked and taped off by organizations that are trained to monitor sea turtle nesting. Sea turtles lay their eggs away from the water typically at the toe of the dune. Even if a site is missed and not marked it will not be at or near the waterline which makes the argument of not digging below 6″ or even 18″ for that matter in that area completely senseless. Not that that was the either of the officials reason for not digging in the first place.

  21. This is drivel. It’s no secret that there’s oil down there, and we all know that BP murdered the Gulf. His camera crew filmed BP workers digging the oil up.

    I know there are dorms on my former campus with asbestos in the walls. Would a reporter be justified in taking a hammer drill in one of the dorms and exposing that asbestos?

    The story here isn’t that there’s oil in that beach. We can all agree that there is. I’m not sure what the story is. Federal employees enforcing federal regulations? A reporter trades one pile of sensationalist drivel news clip for another? The majority of BoingBoing readers will get behind anyone, no matter how preposterous, provided that person’s views align at some point with their own?

  22. That some commenters on BoingBoing will stick up for the authorities, no matter how ridiculous their decisions seem? Comparing digging in a beach to using a hammer drill would only work if a hammer drill was part of your arm, and you could repair the drywall with your other arm.

  23. Anon #23, sorry my grammar kind of sucked there: I meant that sea turtles come to mind as something fragile and unnoticed on a beach, not that they are some kind of tiny careless vandals mucking things up with their infernal holes. (Even though that would be adorable.)

    I trust the NPS because I don’t have a better option. And judging from the work they have done I think they’re doing great.

  24. Filming the official’s and park service’s negative reactions provides more useful coverage than any amount of digging would ever do.

  25. Two things:
    1) As stated above, there are a whole pile of very good reasons to not allow digging on the beach. And as far as the responses above that say: “What about the children building sandcastles?!”, two guys in hard hats with shovels, and a four-year old building a sand-castle are not even close to the same thing. It’s called discretion.

    2) What would you have done if you were that park service employee? Your job is to enforce the rules, and a bunch of guys come to the beach with shovels and cameras and start breaking those rules while filming it on your watch.

    I hope BP gets nailed to the wall for all this, but demonizing a parks employee for not allowing the rules to get broken while filming it is not the answer.

  26. Two options: Enforce a law as often as resources permit, or never enforce it. Anything in between is probable cause to suspect an ulterior motive.

    If you never, ever, go after kids building sandcastles and such, digging bigger holes is OK. Deal with it or get rigidly defined and signposted de minimis provisions.

  27. Wow.. what is wrong with America??? Sounding more and more like a Taliban run country every day. Can’t dig in the sand? You are not wearing your burqa!

    ps. Some idiot is concerned about the sea turtles… The oil will take care of that for you…

  28. Amusing. I once mined magnetite from a tide-pool reserve in SoCal. A docent came over, asked about it, let us proceed. You can’t
    dredge for gold though, she said; someone had once tried, its
    too disruptive. “Cleaning” the beach is ok :-)

    The magnetite was fine for thermit applications later at home.

    My 10 year old was like, yeah, that’s my dad, so what?

  29. It is National Park Service (not “Parks;” see http://www.nps.gov and 36 CFR 1.1). Secondly, except for the US Park Police, the NPS has Rangers, not Police Officers. I know this because my father is a retired NPS Law Enforcement Ranger.

    The first person who shows up in the video is not in a uniform of the NPS or USFWS, unless goofy old guy beach attire has become a uniform. I do not know what his role is — maybe he’s a NPS lifeguard? He’s not law enforcement, because he threatens to call law enforcement.

    I do not know what park this is in. 36 CFR part 7 has some special regulations for specific parks. See http://law.justia.com/us/cfr/title36/36cfr7_main_02.html. As a child and teen I dug in the sand at Cape Hatteras NS, NC, and played in the rocks and sand at Mora Beach in Olympic NP, WA. Either this is a new or a local regulation or policy. I would hate to think that it is so recent as to just cover up presence of oil in the sands of US Gulf Coast areas. Given the fluctuating nature of beach sands, I do not see how such a regulation is really aimed at resource protection or even visitor safety.

  30. This is so clearly a case of “Corporations own this place and write the laws so you’d better shut up about the oil in the sand”…

    “You’re not allowed to film in National Parks” …. awesome. It’s best not to go there at all as it may remind you how wrong and ugly this system is, and what you’re missing out on in your life, when you’re back in your air-conditioned cubicle.

    You’re not even allowed to film your children, that could get you arrested and branded as a pedo.

    Does it make you joyful and grateful for this life and this planet? It’s illegal, or soon will be.

    Shut up, like Jello Biafra said. Curfew!

    Amerika need not fear “Socialism”, it’s fast superceding it in terms of sheer repression. At least “socialist” dictatorships are more honest and upfront about their intentions: You are our worker slave, comrade. In Amerika you’re told you’free, until you find out just how phony that phreedom is.

    There’s still some oil and gas to burn, take heart.
    Have a nice day.

  31. He was harming what? The already dead marine life. Give me a break. This isn’t right at all. How is it harming sea life? They don’t cover the beaches with sand castles. Aren’t the beaches long? Your supposed to take down sand castles when your done anyways.

  32. I highly doubt anyone is going to make an effort to dig up, de-sand, and purify the crude oil. If so we better have the national guard on each grain of sand. Best country, worst government.

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