U.S. Forest Service to Charge Photographers

The U.S. Forest Service recently proposed a new rule that would require photographers to obtain permits costing up to $1,500 in order to take pictures of U.S. wilderness land. The rule is set to be finalized near the end of 2014, which would mean any person who takes a picture without a permit while on U.S. wilderness land, even the most innocent hiker taking a picture with an iPhone, could face up to a $1,000 fine starting in 2015, according to USFS spokesperson Larry Chambers.

The proposed rule is sparking much controversy between the USFS and citizens who are outraged at the idea of having to pay over a thousand dollars just to take a picture while hiking in U.S. wilderness land. Responding to such criticism, the USFS has delayed implementation of the proposed rule until December so as to allow more time for public comment. It has been reported by the International Business Times that members of the National Press Photographers Association are threatening to sue the USFS if it implements the rule.

The USFS says the proposed rule is based off of the Wilderness Act of 1964, which was meant to deter commercial gain for individuals or businesses from federally regulated lands. The USFS claims that the potential for profit from photographic endeavors such as documentaries and magazine coverage on U.S. wilderness land exists and that the Wilderness Act of 1964, and by extension the proposed new rule, was meant to retain the raw character of nature and prevent the use of its essence for commercial interests. However, many are saying that the use of the Wilderness Act of 1964 in this case is too much of a stretch of policy. Some are even saying that it is unconstitutional.

What is really interesting about this issue is the sheer irony of the Forest Service’s current role in deterring individuals and businesses from profiting off of U.S. wilderness land by charging those individuals and businesses with permits and fines that cost over a thousand dollars. In other words, the USFS is proposing a new rule that would allow it to make a profit by deterring the potential for others to make a profit from U.S. wilderness land.

The rule would be more understandable if it only extended to professional photographers taking photos that might end up in prestigious magazines, websites or art galleries. Those photographers definitely can make a significant profit off of the photos they take on U.S. wilderness land. However, the rule is going to extend even to amateur photographers. Their photos will most likely end up nowhere besides Facebook and Instagram for their friends to see. They’re not going to make a profit off of a photo taken on a mobile phone. The USFS should not charge wilderness lovers thousands of dollars just to take pictures that are almost always entirely for personal enjoyment.

What is more at stake than just money with this proposed rule is the principle of having to pay in order to take pictures of the land that one explores by one’s own initiative. According to the USFS website, U.S. wilderness land “[is] administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave [the wilderness] unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness.” U.S. wilderness land is meant to be enjoyed by the public in a manner that promotes land preservation. The land does not suffer any negative environmental impact when a person takes a picture. If people that have hiked miles into wilderness land want to take a picture to commemorate their adventure, then they should be able to do so without paying any sum of money. Hikers could even help promote U.S. wilderness preservation by sharing the photos they take of the land and including descriptions that mention preservation and the USFS mission.

The USFS needs to focus on promoting the enjoyment of U.S. wilderness land. Instead, the USFS is making it harder to share the beauty with others. There is still time for public comment on this issue. Now is the time to let the USFS know that a picture is worth a thousand words, not dollars.