What others say: Forest Service must get rid of flawed photographing requirements

  • Sunday, October 5, 2014 6:33pm
  • Opinion

The U.S. Forest Service’s requirement that certain people who film or photograph federal wilderness must first obtain a special use permit is rightly being met with widespread condemnation.

The American public must continue clamoring for the Forest Service to drop this awful idea. By no stretch of the imagination can taking a photo or video of wilderness be considered a “special use.” Under no circumstances should people who take photos or film of wilderness be forced to pay for the right to do so.

News organizations, as staunch defendants of the First Amendment, have been raising a ruckus since the proposed directive was posted Sept. 9. Last week Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell attempted to assuage the concerns of journalists by “clarifying” that news media would not be subject to the rule. Recreationists would be exempt as well. But the fact that Tidwell needed to provide such clarifications speaks volumes about the overly broad, overly vague nature of the rule. It leaves too much open to interpretation — and that opens the door to First Amendment violations.

Tidwell explained that the proposed directive applies only to commercial filming that includes commercial workers, such as models and actors. A permit for a small group of three or fewer people would cost as little as $30 a day, while larger productions with dozens of workers would need a permit costing as much as $800.

The rule may apply to a smaller group of people than at first feared, but it shouldn’t apply to anyone. Photos and film take nothing from wilderness, cause no damage and are no cause for public concern. Whether a picture is taken by a photojournalist or a commercial photographer, the impact on wilderness is the same: none.

The Forest Service has no basis for this temporary rule, which it is now, inexplicably, seeking to make permanent.

It’s true that commercial activity is already severely restricted in wilderness areas, and has been since the 1964 Wilderness Act. The entire nation is celebrating the 50th anniversary of this historic legislation.

To this national celebration the Forest Service has brought the gift equivalent of a bag of used socks. It’s not needed, not wanted and only causes headaches for those who now have to figure out what to do with it.

Thankfully, Montana’s entire congressional delegation has expressed a clear concern with this rule. U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh, both Democrats, co-signed a letter to Tidwell last week, and U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, a Republican, also sent his own letter to Tidwell. The Montana senators urged Tidwell to “withdraw and redraft the directive” while Daines requested a “detailed clarification” of which activities are subject to the rule. It’s time for Montanans to chime in as well.

Due to the rush of public and political outcry, the comment period, which was originally scheduled to close on Nov. 3, has been extended to Dec. 3. Speak up now and tell the Forest Service not to revise this flaw-ridden rule — but to get rid of it altogether.

— The Missoulian,

Oct. 1

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