Permit Or Fine? Uproar After U.S. Forest Service Wants Cash For Pictures, Videos In Wilderness Areas

Outrage ensued this week over a Federal Register notice that outlined a U.S. Forest Service plan to impose fines and permits for videos and photographs taken in wilderness areas. National Parks Traveler said the uproar against the U.S. Forest Service was born from a “poorly worded Federal Register notice, and was fanned by media worried about their First Amendment rights, and very possibly by federal government critics.”

“Hey hikers, that scenic forest photo you just posted on Instagram may cost you a thousand dollar fine. According to a proposed update to U.S. Forest Service regulations, still photography or video taken in any of its 439 Federal Wilderness Areas is subject to permitting (costing up to $1,500) or you can face a $1,000 fine per photo,” an editorial featured on Yahoo! Travel stated.

National Parks Traveler reported that even U.S. senators condemned the U.S. Forest Service’s proposal.

“A picture is worth a thousand words, but the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed rule on wilderness photography conjures only one: Wrong,” U.S. Sen. Mark Udall wrote in a release. “As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, we should be encouraging all visitors to share photos of these special places — not imposing erroneous red tape on journalists and other visitors whose tourism drives our local economies. This proposed rule defies common sense, and I urge all Coloradans to stand with me and voice their concerns with this misguided rule.”

The U.S Forest Service immediately addressed the public uproar.

Writer Phuong Le’s article in USA Today claimed the U.S Forest Service backed down on their proposal after being met with such strong opposition.

“Faced with increasing criticism of a proposal that would restrict media filming in wilderness areas, the head of the U.S. Forest Service said that the rule is not intended to apply to news-gathering activities,” Le wrote.

The Forest Service says the intent was never to require a permit of individuals for videotaping or snapping photos of their wilderness adventures. The aim, according to the Forest Service, was simply to take existing rules for still photography and expand them to commercial film projects.

“The previous directive,” Forest Service officials explained, “addressed still photography in wilderness and did not provide adequate guidance to review commercial filming in wilderness permit proposals.”

“The fact is, the directive pertains to commercial photography and filming only – if you’re there to gather news or take recreational photographs, no permit would be required. We take your First Amendment rights very seriously,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell clarified. “We’re looking forward to talking with journalists and concerned citizens to help allay some of the concerns we’ve been hearing and clarify what’s covered by this proposed directive.”