Forest Service: Media needs $1,500 permit to film wilderness

The U.S. Forest Service is proposing permanent new rules that would require media organizations to obtain a permit to film and shoot photographs in more than 100 million acres of the nation’s wilderness.

Under the plan, the Forest Service would consider the nature of a proposed project before approving a special use permit then charge fees of up to $1,500 for commercial filming and photography in federally designated wilderness areas.

Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said such rules would be a clear violation of the First Amendment and raises concerns about press freedom, including whether denying a permit would amount to prior restraint.

“What if they deny you a permit because they don’t like the story you’re working on?” he asked.

Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, said the Wilderness Act of 1964 prohibits commercial enterprise in wilderness.

The rules exclude breaking news situations, defined as “an event or incident that arises suddenly, evolves quickly, and rapidly ceases to be newsworthy.”

But Osterreicher said the agency ignores big distinctions between editorial and commercial use and also should not be allowed to define what constitutes breaking news.

“We’re headed down a really slippery slope if we allowed the government to include editorial and news gathering activities in commercial use,” he said.

Close said the current rules have been in place for 48 months, and the proposal released this month would make those guidelines permanent. Public comments are due by Nov. 3.

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