Today, the team at Oregon Live exposed a new rule proposed by the United States Forest Service, that, if passed, will take effect in November. The rule calls for any member of the "media" to first apply for a permit before being allowed to take photos or video on 193 million acres of designated wilderness areas. Oh, and by the way, the permit costs $1,500.
UPDATE: According to Oregon Live, the United States Forest Service has announced that is delaying implementation of the rule due to the large public outcry. I have reached out to the USFS and will continue to update this article as more information becomes available.
UPDATE TWO: United States Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers issued a statement announcing the delay is actually to extend the comment period by one month, to December 3, 2014. The USFS will also set up meetings to address concerns and field questions by the media and public.
Oregon Live has a informative list of 7 things you need to know about this rule, based on writer Rob Davis' research and understanding. As it turns out, the rules are already in place, and have been for 48 months, but are only now being turned into law. This rule can also apply to non profit organizations and private citizens who use a photo or video to sell something.
As I have stated, probably the most troubling aspect of this permit system is that the USFS has the ability to grant or deny any permit as it sees fit. Liz Close, USFS acting wilderness director, was quoted as saying "If you were engaged on reporting that was in support of wilderness characteristics, that would be permitted,"
The question is, what if I am reporting on the Forest Services neglect to our public lands?
UPDATE THREE: According to the Washington Post, Tom Tidwell, chief of the United States Forest Service says “If you’re news media, it has no effect at all,” he said. “If you’re a private individual, this doesn’t apply. Individuals who want to shoot on wild lands won’t need a permit, even if they plan to sell their photographs, except if it involves props. Fees for permits vary by size. Groups of up to three will pay $10 a day, while crews of 80 shooting movies usually pay around $800 a day”
Ok, so it sounds like we will finally get some clarification on this issue. The question is, why wasn't the above stance conveyed by the first two high ranking officials of the USFS to be questioned?
Original Story Below
But the good news is, if you get caught, it is only a $1,000 fine, $500 less than the permit cost. This is just one of the distorted aspects to this proposed rule. The other being that the Forest Service doesn't detail what they consider to be a "commercial" entity. If I go into one of the almost 200 million acres of wilderness under control of the USFS and take a overbaked HDR photo with my iPhone 6 Plus, am I not allowed to sell this as a print for a small profit? Also, if I do need to pay the $1,500 permit fee for this right, why is my permit the same dollar amount as REI who has a film crew of 70 people overtaking the pristine backcountry for 12 hours on a beautiful summer day?
But what if I am writing a piece for Fstoppers about how the U.S. Forest Service has neglected a part of their wilderness area? Since I need approval from the USFS before I can take photos in this particular location, do I really think they will grant me a permit once I tell them what the story is about?
Will they only grant requests that look favorably upon the Forest Service?
And Eric Vilas-Boas on Esquire found some irony regarding the USFS choice of tweet given today's news.
Who knows if AdCouncil, which produced it, paid $1,500 for a permit, but that money would prevent a lot of people from doing so.
Have you seen a Light Show on a National Forest? Take a peek! http://t.co/UPwejWdn3p— USDA Forest Service (@forestservice) September 24, 2014
There is no question that us nature and landscape photographers want to do anything we can to keep our wilderness intact for future generations, but with complicated and vague rules like this, no one wins, including the United States Forest Service, who will lose it's best marketing tool. Word of mouth and beautiful photos and videos from artists who don't have an extra $1,500 laying around.
The Forest Service is opening this to public discussion however, so let them know what you think.
[via Oregon Live]
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