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Yellowstone, Other National Parks Criticized Over Sports Illustrated Photo Shoot

Yellowstone officials are in hot water after permitting swimsuit models to pose in the Park for Sports Illustrated.

According to the Washington Post, the photo shoot occurred last year and were included in SI’s 2015 swimsuit issue; photos from the shoot were later included in National Geographic’s May 2016 issue on Yellowstone.

The backlash comes as the National Park Service is embroiled in a scandal pertaining to the agency’s reportedly toxic culture of sexual harassment, with vigorous criticism coming from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. From the Post:

The swimsuit issue did not cause a stir when it went on newsstands last year featuring models in skimpy bikinis posing in Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon and Grand Teton national parks.

But that was before the Interior Department inspector general’s office issued an explosive investigation in January documenting how multiple female employees at the Grand Canyon were repeatedly propositioned for sex and were targets of unwanted attention by male employees, some of whom were their supervisors. Another investigation released in June found similar sexual misconduct at Canaveral National Seashore, in Florida.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), told the Post he believes the example set by SI’s photo shoot could make the NPS’ sexual harassment and discrimination issues “more difficult to address.”

According to National Park Traveler, PEER has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the NPS, demanding not only the permits issued to SI, but also any germane correspondence between National Geographic and park officials; NG used a photo of model Jessica Gomes posing in cowboy boots and bikini, in front of the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. From the Post:

In an interview Tuesday, Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk recalled that Sports Illustrated’s request for permits to stage shoots for the swimsuit edition prompted “a lot of discussion” across the agency “about whether the photos were appropriate” for family-friendly national parks.

But the request was approved. “At the time, we said, this is a respected magazine, and there’s nothing unusual here,” Wenk said. The Yellowstone permit was among about 150 approved for commercial photo shoots every year.

But today, with top Park Service officials pledging to turn around a sexual-harassment problem they acknowledge goes beyond two parks, “We would look at this request through a different lens,” Wenk said.

“There would be a different level of scrutiny, and that would be a good discussion to have,” he said. But it’s impossible to know if the outcome would have been any different, he said.

NPS chief of public affairs Tom Crosson responded to the controversy in an email, saying the agency “wholeheartedly respects the concerns raised by our employees,” adding they encourage honest dialogue on said concerns and other issues. Crosson added, however, that the NPS has no “morals test” when it comes to accessing national parks.

National Geographic Director of Communications Anna Kukelhaus, likewise, responded to the Post in an email, saying the Gomes image was one of 70 included in the issue; Kukelhaus said the publication “did not want to just showcase the natural and ageless beauty of the park, but to look at how the park is used and how people interact with it.”

Critics say the lack of “morals test” or other preclusions are no excuse for permitting cases like the SI shoot—especially in light of criticism against the NPS for permitting discrimination and sexual harassment in the agency’s rank and file.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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