Forest Service Photo Rules Won't Apply to Media

Only commercial crews will need permits

Sep 26, 2014
Outside Magazine
Death Valley NP Dunes

The National Park Service says that any news service does not, in fact, have to obtain media permits.    Greg Willis/Flickr

Following new reports this week that the U.S. Forest Service would enact a rule requiring media to obtain permits before taking photos or video on wilderness land, the agency announced late Thursday that the rule is not intended to apply to news gathering.

The Forest Service had said earlier in the week that, except in breaking news situations, every news organization would have to get a permit. Several organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the National Press Photographers Association, voiced their disapproval, saying that the rule would violate First Amendment rights.

“The U.S. Forest Service remains committed to the First Amendment,” USFS chief Tom Tidwell said in an interview with the Associated Press yesterday. “It does not infringe in any way on First Amendment rights. It does not apply to news-gathering activities, and that includes any part of the news.”

Instead, the rule will apply to commercial filming, and professional or amateur photographers won’t need a permit unless they use models, actors, or props or work in areas where the public is generally not allowed. The Forest Service will judge permit applications for commercial filming based on whether it spreads information about the enjoyment of wilderness or its scientific, scenic, or historical value; helps preserve the wilderness character; and doesn’t advertise products or services. It’ll also look into whether there are film sites that can be used that aren’t on wilderness land.

The Forest Service’s statement says that “the $1,500 commercial permit fee cited in many publications is erroneous, and refers to a different proposed directive.” But the agency hasn’t clarified which directive that fee applies to, and that information was provided by a Forest Service spokesman.