Restriction of Photographic rights in National Forests, yes or no?

As many of you might realize, many of my images are taken on Federal or State lands, in Federal National Scenic Areas, Wildernesses, National Forests, even National Fish Hatcheries.  There has been a vague and loosely enforced law on the books for four years or more now limiting commercial photography within Federal lands.  Now they are planning to make those into Federal Laws.  The question has been just how clearly defined is commercial photography, and is it left up to Rangers in the field to interpret as desired?  Is this Ok if so?  I am updating this as new articles pop up and get shared with me so the links above the Original Post line are all newer.  This certainly got stirred up by media to create a frenzy, but it also brings to light several issues that need clarification.  One thing I am taking out of all this is that Common sense and common respect and courtesy are sadly lacking among too many people on both sides of this (and any) argument.  All visitors to the Forests whether photographers or not “should” be respectful to the land and appreciative of the work involved along the way that created these protected areas we can all enjoy.  Just as we should all be respectful of each other!  sigh… I can dream!

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, both have beautiful waterfalls

There is a public outcry currently on this subject, Social media is buzzing with outrage at the phrasing of Federal laws about to be enforced.  Some of the interpretation indicates a strong 1st amendment rights violation, and too much power is left up to individual federal enforcers as to how they enforce the laws.   As my friend Pia Johnson pointed out:  “The actual language for photography reads: “Commercial photography is defined as the use of photographic equipment to capture still images on film, digital format, and other similar technologies found on National Forest System lands that: *takes place at a location where members of the public are generally not allowed* or where *additional administrative costs are likely*; or *uses models, sets, or props that are not part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities*. (Emphasis added.)”

On the other side of the coin…  it is always good to see both sides of a debate so big… it is never just one side that has good points. Sadly enough there are such a large number of humans that have never learned respect for all life and wilderness etiquette. Photographers among the masses… at times simply because they are so intent on getting the shot they forget basic caution and awareness. The Moose story in the updates illustrates this problem.  May we all learn better awareness!

I am providing a few links for more information on this subject, and sharing a few comments that have been made on Facebook .  These links will open in a new tab on your browser.


The Other Side of the Story:


This Blogpost on WordPress by Gary Hart is a well written post from the point of view of a photographer leading workshops in National Forests and Parks, who has had no issues with the current policies:


“After doing a little research, I’ve confirmed that this is yet one more example of the media whipping the public into a frenzy by selecting a few facts and presenting them in the most sensational way.”

“So. Would I support the kind of heavy-handed National Forest Service regulation that the media accounts imply is coming our way? Absolutely not. And while I don’t think something like that is imminent, I do wish photographers would do a better job of policing themselves, both by managing their own behavior, and by respectfully speaking up when another photographer behaves irresponsibly before we’re all affected by more restrictive policy and stricter enforcement.”

article by Gary Hart


Newer article in the Oregonian, whose articles whipped up the initial frenzy:

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell backs off wilderness photo restrictions, says he values First Amendment


Moose Death Prompts Crackdown on Wildlife Photographers

Grand Teton incident spurs park to start new ranger patrols


UPDATE:   Forest Service Gutting 1st Amendment? Relax.

But I am not totally convinced, either… and still think that a $1500 permit for a small time local photographer is absurd.  That will put me out of business quick!

Reading this particular definition in the regulations ( quoted from  this article above ) is someone encouraging:

“So, how do the Forest Service regulations currently define “commercial filming” and “still photography”? That is the question that no one is asking. “Commercial filming” is defined as “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, as defined in FSH 2709.11, chapter 40.” The other key term, “still photography,” is defined as “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.”

By their plain language, neither definition would apply to someone who was going in with a regular DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera or iPhone to take wildlife, nature or landscape photos, unless models or props were needed. It also would not apply to any media reporter using still photography – DSLR or iPhone – to simply capture images for editorial purposes.




Statesman Journal: 

Feds want to restrict filming in wilderness areas

a few quotes from the article:

“The U.S. Forest Service has proposed a set of rules that would strictly limit filming and photography in federal wilderness areas by media companies, commercial outfitters, nonprofit groups and even, potentially, members of the general public.”

“The Forest Service proposed directive on commercial filming in Wilderness has been in place for more than 4 years and is a good faith effort to ensure the fullest protection of America’s wild places. To ensure that all members of the public who have an interest in wilderness access have the opportunity to be heard, we are extending the comment period on the proposed directive to Dec. 3, 2014. In the coming weeks the Forest Service will be setting up public meetings to answer questions from the public, including journalists and members of wilderness groups.”


From the Oregonian:  

Forest Service says media needs photography permit in wilderness areas, alarming First Amendment advocates



From Oregon Live (the Oregonian) we have this article:  

7 things you should know about the Forest Service’s media restrictions in wilderness

and quotes from this article:

The U.S. Forest Service is cracking down on press coverage in federal wilderness areas.

As we reported, under rules being finalized, a reporter who shot a video or photo on an iPhone in 36 million acres of wilderness would first need to pay for a special permit.

Permits cost up to $1,500, says Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers, and reporters who don’t get them could face fines up to $1,000.

First Amendment advocates say the rules ignore press freedoms and are so vague they’d allow the Forest Service to grant permits only to favored reporters shooting videos for positive stories.

Our story drew swift outrage from across the country.

“What does the Forest Service plan to do next—monitor Instagram accounts and fine users that post pictures of our wilderness areas?” asked U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat. “I will organize and send the Forest Service a bipartisan letter telling them the current rule is unacceptable and that it needs to be fixed.”


and yeah, don’t believe everything you read in the Esquire, but they do have some good points as well.
In the Esquire:


quote from this article:

This week’s most profoundly wrongheaded display of nonviolent press infringement comes from an unlikely source: The U.S. Forest Service. New rules being finalized in November state that—across this country’s gloriously beautiful, endlessly photogenic, 193 million acres of designated wilderness area administered by the USFS—members of the press who happen upon it will need permits to photograph or shoot video.

And yes, it does sound like one of the dumbest things you’ve ever read.

“It’s pretty clearly unconstitutional,” said Gregg Leslie, legal defense director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Alexandria, Va. “They would have to show an important need to justify these limits, and they just can’t.”

Wait! It gets better.

[Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director] didn’t cite any real-life examples of why the policy is needed or what problems it’s addressing. She didn’t know whether any media outlets had applied for permits in the last four years.”


Again from the Oregonian:  

Forest Service delaying media wilderness photography rules amid growing outcry about First Amendment

quote from this page:

“Amid growing public outcry, the U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday it will delay finalizing restrictive rules requiring media to get special permits to shoot photos or videos in wilderness areas.

The federal agency will allow public comment for an additional month, until Dec. 3, Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers said, and set up meetings to answer questions from journalists, wilderness groups and the public.

“The Forest Service proposed directive on commercial filming in wilderness has been in place for more than four years and is a good faith effort to ensure the fullest protection of America’s wild places,” Chambers said in a statement.

The delay comes as Oregon legislators, media and First Amendment advocates expressed alarm about the federal plan to require reporters and photographers to pay for a permit and get permission before shooting a photo or video in 36 million acres of federally designated wilderness managed by the Forest Service.”



Proposed Directive for Commercial Filming in Wilderness; Special Uses Administration


"Glory Above" Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Columbia River Gorge,
“Glory Above”
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area


USFS to Charge Photographers for Wilderness Shots

September 25, 2014

Quote from the Outside Magazine article:

“Temporary rules have been been in place since 2010, when the Forest Service denied an Idaho Public Television crew into a wilderness area to film student conservation workers. The reasoning was that the show sold DVDs of its episodes, but when the governor of Idaho stepped in, the Forest Service agreed to allow it. Close told the Oregonian that she didn’t know whether any media outlets had applied for permits in the past four years.

The Forest Service would make exceptions for breaking news that “arises suddenly, evolves quickly, and rapidly ceases to be newsworthy.”

Beyond the media, the rule would apply to anyone who might use the photos or video to make money while in a wilderness area, be it a documentary film crew, nonprofit, or private citizen.”


Any feedback?  More links that seem appropriate?
Gary Randall of Gary Randall Fine Art Photography   has been dealing with all of this for two years after getting fined on this law in the Mount Hood National Forest.  He is the only one I personally know of who has gone through all the permitting processes required to become a licensed workshop teacher and tour guide in the Federal Lands of the Columbia Gorge and the Mount Hood National Forests. It was incredibly time-consuming, frustrating and highly expensive, with one hand in the offices he had to work with not knowing what their other hand was doing.

Another thing I am not totally clear on.. they specify Wilderness area, of which there are several around  southern Washington where I live.  However often wilderness is used interchangeably with National forest, and so that needs to be clarified in my opinion.

And what about  what about the Forest Service running their contest every year for wilderness photos on the Forest passes!?!?!?! contradiction!


There is a way of making comments (Thank you to Rebecca Evans and Sheila Moore Reynolds who provided this info) :



“Comments must be received in writing on or before November 3, 2014 to be assured of consideration.

Submit comments electronically by following the instructions at the federal eRulemaking portal at or submit comments via fax to 703-605-5131 or 703-605-5106. Please identify faxed comments by including “Commercial Filming in Wilderness” on the cover sheet or first page. Comments may also be submitted via mail to Commercial Filming in Wilderness, USDA, Forest Service, Attn: Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers (WWSR), 201 14th Street SW., Mailstop Code: 1124, Washington, DC 20250-1124. Email comments may be sent to: If comments are submitted electronically, duplicate comments should not be sent by mail. Hand-delivered comments will not be accepted and receipt of comments cannot be confirmed. Please restrict comments to issues pertinent to the proposed directive, explain the reasons for any recommended changes, and, where possible, reference the specific section and wording being addressed.
All comments, including names and addresses when provided, will be placed in the record and be made available for public inspection and copying.”


This is an example of a comment from a friend Frank George III :

Landscape photography gives access to wilderness areas that many could never access due to physical limitations. Preventing amateur or professional landscape photographers from photographing, advertising those photographs for sale, or sharing and displaying them would infringe on the elderly, disabled, disabled veterans, the poor who can’t afford a trip from distant locations to those areas represented in the photograph from ever experiencing them. Also the landscape photograph often conveys a point of view from an otherwise untoured location or conveys elements of time that all Americans are not available to see or enjoy. In summary limiting landscape photography or distribution of landscape images would adversely prevent enjoyment every segment of the American public from their public lands on one level or another. Please exclude still motion landscape photography from this policy.”


and for a bit of ironic Comic Relief, a live intro by Utah Phillips that is appropriate!  YouTube video…

Natural Resources Utah Phillips Ani DiFranco 


although from one of the other links it appears that the finalization  has been delayed for comments until December 3, 2014.   Also the comments themselves are not being shown to the Public, and are reportedly being filtered and some parts denied or withheld (sounds like CENSORSHIP to me and many others!

Feel free to comment respectfully, and share this collection of links with others.

Thank you!


Published by Starlisa Black Photography

My mother taught me to love the world around me… and if I can help others to see with new eyes by showing that beauty through photography. I have accomplished my hearts goal . Husum, WA is my childhood home and I consider home to be anywhere from Mount Adams to the Columbia River. I give thanks to my parents for their love for Nature and God. My work can be found online in full on Flickr, and while I am not set up to sell on that site, if you find a print of any size or style you wish to inquire about simply email me and I can send you a price list of prints by themselves or framed or mounted on foam core, gallery wraps, and standouts. I also license my photos for use in magazines, travel brochures and for web site use, and have been published several times. During the summer I am often at Saturday Market in Trout Lake or Hood River with my Note Cards and Prints You can also find me on Google as Darlisa Black, and on Facebook as Starlisa Black Photography Thank you for Viewing…

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