USFS to Charge Photographers for Wilderness Shots

Permits will run $1,500, fines $1,000

Sep 25, 2014
Outside Magazine

The Forest Service says it would allow media to take photos without permits for certain kinds of breaking news.    daveynin/Flickr

The U.S. Forest Service is looking to cement regulations on the media’s right to take photos and shoot video on federally designated wilderness land. A new rule that is set to be finalized later this year would require any reporter, photographer, or videographer on the 36 million acres of wilderness the agency oversees to get a permit, lest they face a fine. 

Forest Service spokesperson Larry Chambers told the Oregonian that permits will cost up to $1,500, and those caught so much as taking an iPhone photo without clearance will be fined $1,000. Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, told the Oregonian that the restrictions are following the Wilderness Act of 1964, which is meant to preserve the untamed character of the wilderness and prevent it from being used for commercial gain.

Gregg Leslie, legal defense director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Alexandria, Virginia, told the Oregonian that what the Forest Service is doing is unconstitutional. “They would have to show an important need to justify these limits, and they just can’t,” he said.

Temporary rules have been been in place since 2010, when the Forest Service denied an Idaho Public Television crew into a wilderness area to film student conservation workers. The reasoning was that the show sold DVDs of its episodes, but when the governor of Idaho stepped in, the Forest Service agreed to allow it. Close told the Oregonian that she didn’t know whether any media outlets had applied for permits in the past four years.

The Forest Service would make exceptions for breaking news that “arises suddenly, evolves quickly, and rapidly ceases to be newsworthy.” 

Beyond the media, the rule would apply to anyone who might use the photos or video to make money while in a wilderness area, be it a documentary film crew, nonprofit, or private citizen.

After vocal public outcry, the Forest Service opted to delay implementation of the rule from November to December to allow more time for public comment.

Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, told the International Business Times that the organization will be putting the government on notice: “If they go ahead and persist in doing this, we will probably challenge them in court.”

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