Under Scrutiny, Forest Service Seeks to Clarify New Wilderness Rule
Responding to public outcry and letters of concern from Montana’s Congressional delegation and others, the U.S. Forest Service sought to clarify a proposed rule that would prohibit commercial photography and filmmaking in designated wilderness areas.
The Forest Service fell under intense scrutiny after announcing it would begin enforcing an obscure regulation that would require special permits costing up to $1,500 for anyone filming or shooting photos that could be considered commercial activity.
Tom Tidwell, chief of the Forest Service, sent out a press release Thursday intending to explain the agency’s proposal.
According to the Forest Service, the proposal does not apply to news coverage or gathering information for a news program or documentary. However, projects that fall outside of that scope on wilderness land would require approval from the agency “to protect wilderness values.”
“The fact is, the directive pertains to commercial photography and filming only – if you’re there to gather news or take recreational photographs, no permit would be required. We take your First Amendment rights very seriously,” said Tidwell. “We’re looking forward to talking with journalists and concerned citizens to help allay some of the concerns we’ve been hearing and clarify what’s covered by this proposed directive.”
The agency said it would delay finalizing the rule by a month and allow public comments until Dec. 3.
The proposed restrictions sparked initial backlash among First Amendment advocates and all three D.C. lawmakers from Montana.
“We have grave concerns and are deeply skeptical of the government putting limits on activity protected under the First Amendment,” Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh said in a joint letter to Tidwell and Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.