The U.S. Forest Service is looking to implement a new policy on the media’s right to take photos and shoot video on federally designated wilderness land. The regulations were quietly proposed by the USFS on September 4th but are now, understandably, catching the public’s attention in a big way. It’s logical that the Forest Service needs money in order to maintain these wilderness lands for both the public and nature to enjoy. However to hit those very people, who’s work promotes the parks for the USFS, seems desperate. This, in part, shows just how low on funds the Forest Service is, with the lion’s share of their budget now going to dealing with wildfires.
The 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 $1500 permit or face a hefty $1000 fine. The rules could be applied to anyone taking photos that result in some kind of commerce, from bloggers to amateur photographers who sell a print or two. That’s a lot of money, especially in a profession, such as photography, in which pay check’s are not always guaranteed. Bare in mind also that this is public land!
Larry Chambers, a Forest Service spokesman, told the Oregonian that “permits cost up to $1,500 and reporters who don’t get a permit could face fines up to $1,000.” Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, told the Oregonian that the “restrictions have been in place on a temporary basis for four years” and are meant to preserve the untamed character of the country’s wilderness as well as preventing it from being used for commercial gain.
Close also said that the rules don’t apply to breaking news, and that “if you were engaged on reporting that was in support of wilderness characteristics, that would be permitted.”
The Forest Service’s policy has set off many alarm bells within media outlets and with First Amendment advocates. They say that the rules are vague and could be used to prevent access for stories that the Forest Service doesn’t like. Precedence for this occurred in 2010, when temporary rules allowed the Forest Service to deny an Idaho Public Television crew into a wilderness area to film conservation workers. The reasoning given, was that the show sold DVDs of its episodes. However, after the governor of Idaho stepped in and the face of public criticism, the Forest Service agreed to allow it.
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 “pretty clearly unconstitutional…They would have to show an important need to justify these limits, and they just can’t.”
As mentioned above, the Forest Service would make exceptions for breaking news that “arises suddenly, evolves quickly, and rapidly ceases to be newsworthy.” However the rules 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. While it’s clear that much-needed funds are in short supply for the forest service, this new policy is not going to be easy to implement.
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, you can read it in full here.
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.”
I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens here. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.