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article imageCitizen science a 'big no' in Wyoming

By Tim Sandle     May 12, 2015 in Environment
Cheyenne - Wyoming has, in essence, made citizen science a crime. The state has placed restrictions on people photographing the environment and then making any comments about any deterioration to the natural world.
Wyoming is not restricting amateur photographers from snapping the delights of Yellowstone. However, the state is taking action against any photographer who posts a picture with a view to make a statement about the environment.
The situation has arisen, according to lawyer Justin Pidot writing for the Slate, after a an organization called Western Watersheds Project found the presence of Escherichia coli bacteria in a number of streams on federal land. The levels of the bacteria were said to be above water quality standards under the U.S. Clean Water Act. According to the Wonkette, the source of the E. coli has come from cow feces running down hills and into streams and rivers.
Concerned about the adverse publicity, Wyoming has put in place measures to prevent any person from collecting evidence, including photographs, that highlight the quality of the streams and rivers. Yellowstone National Park is known for its wildlife and its many geothermal features, especially Old Faithful Geyser, one of the most popular features in the park. Many visitors are concerned about the state of the park and want to report any effects of chemical or microbial pollution.
The somewhat incredible law falls within a statute passed by the Wyoming governor (Matt Mead, Republican) this spring. The harshest penalty is one year in prison. The law is very restrictive: it says that it is a crime to “collect resource data” from any “open land.” By open land, this refers to land outside of a city or town irrespective of whether it is federal, state, or privately owned.
The operative word is “collect”. This not only refers to taking samples for analysis, it also covers photographic evidence. Of course the law cannot prevent someone from taking a photograph for their personal use. It does, nonetheless, prevent a person from submitting the photograph to any organization as evidence of an environmental concern.
Those against the new law are set to challenge it, arguing that the Wyoming law violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. The actions by the state have created a storm on Twitter, under the #citizenscience hashtag.
More about Citizen science, Pollution, E coli, Escherichia coli, Wyoming
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