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Wilderness photo, video may require permits

 

Happy family of hunters
Photo credit: Brady Miller, goHUNT.com

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is planning to impose new regulations on the media’s right to take photos or shoot videos on federally designated wilderness land. The new policy, proposed by USFS earlier in September, would require any reporter, photographer or videographer to obtain a permit before working on the 36 million acres of public land the agency oversees.

According to the Oregonian, the permits would cost up to $1,500 per project and the USFS would have absolute authority on determining what projects are considered inappropriate. If the Forest Service decides that a person has used images taken in wilderness areas without permission, they could be fined more than $1,000 for failing to comply with the new rules and be forced to recall the images.

The rules would apply to anyone taking images that result in some kind of commerce, from bloggers to amateur photographers to non-profit organizations. They do not, however, apply to news coverage or to gathering information for a news program or documentary.

Liz Close, the agency’s wilderness director, explained that the restrictions are merely following the Wilderness Act of 1964, which is intended to preserve the untamed character of the wilderness and prevent it from being used for commercial gain.

Many are concerned, however, that the proposal violates the First Amendment and that the rules are too vague and could be used to prevent access to stories that the agency does not like.

In 2010, the Forest Service refused to allow an Idaho Public Television crew into wilderness to film conservation workers, but backed down after the governor of Idaho stepped in.

Greg Leslie, legal defense direct at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Oregonian that “it’s pretty unconstitutional. They would have to show an important need to justify these limits, and they just can’t.”

It is not yet clear how the agency plans on enforcing the regulations, but U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon adds that the agency must be even more cautious and discerning in its approach given the advent of smartphones and tablets.

“The Forest Service needs to rethink any policy that subjects noncommercial photographs and recordings to a burdensome permitting process for something as simple as taking a picture with a cell phone,” Wydon advised. “Especially where reporters and bloggers are concerned, this policy raises troubling questions about inappropriate government limits on activity clearly protected by the First Amendment.”

As a result of such vocal public outcry, the Forest Service has chosen to delay implementation of the rule from November to December in order to allow more time for public comment.

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