Proposed changes to United States Forest Service rules for photographers and videographers have some first amendment groups concerned that journalists could be required to obtain permits and pay up to $1,500 in fees to photograph within national forests, according to a report by The Oregonian.

The Oregonian quotes first amendment groups and politicians who are expressing concern about a vaguely worded directive, which could be interpreted to require special permits for all uses other than breaking news situations. Other news situations would appear to require a permit, The Oregonian says.

According to current land use requirements, special permits are  required for “use of still photographic equipment on National Forest System lands that takes place at a location where members of the public generally are not allowed or where additional administrative costs are likely, or uses models, sets, or props that are not a part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities.”

Special permits are also required currently for the “use of motion picture, videotaping, sound recording, or any other moving image or audio recording equipment on National Forest System lands that involves the advertisement of a product or service, the creation of a product for sale, or the use of models, actors, sets, or props, but not including activities associated with broadcasting breaking news.”

The proposed directive “would make permanent guidelines for the acceptance and denial for still photography and commercial filming permits in congressionally designated wilderness areas,” according to US government website Federal Register.

The new guidelines for granting a special use permit ask that applicants meet several requirements. Applicants should be promoting wilderness and outdoor activities, be doing work that doesn’t damage the environment or get in the way of the general public, and shouldn’t use vehicles or other machinery, among other requirements.

The Oregonian article stirring up some furor argues that “a reporter who met a biologist, wildlife advocate or whistleblower alleging neglect in any of the nation’s 100 million acres of wilderness would first need special approval to shoot photos or videos even on an iPhone.”

Maybe. The Forest Service’s special use requirements appear to be targeted at commercial photographers, not journalists engaged in legitimate news gathering. But The Oregonian report did make one rather interesting point: The maximum fee for permits is $1500, while the maximum potential fine for violating the requirements is $1000. So yes, it’s potentially cheaper to break the rules and pay the fine.

Those who wish to comment on the proposed directive on still photography and commercial filming permits can do so here.

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