Charging you for that Instagram picture

Forest Service may demand payment for photography in wilderness
Tongass National Forest wilderness ranger Harry Tullis is seen with tourists at Pack Creek on Admiralty Island in late July. According to a new proposal under consideration by the U.S. Forest Service, photographers in wilderness areas could be required to buy permits before being allowed to take pictures. (Marlena Sloss | Juneau Empire)

The U.S. Forest Service has proposed tighter restrictions on photography in the 109 million acres of officially designated wilderness in the United States. This includes 57.4 million acres in Alaska, much of which is located in Southeast Alaska.


On Wednesday, the Oregonian newspaper in Portland broke the story that the Forest Service is expected to finalize in November a rule that requires photographers to buy special permits to shoot photos or video in wilderness areas.

Under the plan, the Forest Service would consider the nature of a proposed project before charging a fee of up to $1,500.

Documentary photographers, as well as members of the news media, would be covered by the proposal.

Similar rules have been in place for four years, albeit on a temporary basis. In an email to the Empire, a Forest Service spokesman clarified that the policy in place does not require a permit unless the photo shoot uses models, sets or props; takes place where members of the public are usually not allowed; or takes place at a location where additional administrative costs are likely.

The wilderness aspect of the proposal has not been finalized, and opposition is expected to be intense.

“It’s pretty clearly unconstitutional,” Gregg Leslie, legal defense director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told Oregonian reporter Rob Davis.

Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, told the Oregonian that the restrictions are meant to preserve the untamed character of the country’s wilderness.

Exemptions to the rule allow newsgathering organizations to shoot photos and video during breaking events — things like fires, floods and other time-sensitive topics.

While the Forest Service is targeting commercial photographers, the increasingly blurred line between private and commercial photography means the new rules may affect the public.

The rules could affect something as simple as taking a picture with a cellphone, said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), if the cameraman sells that photo to someone.

Close said the proposed regulations are required to implement the Wilderness Act of 1964, which protects wilderness areas from being exploited for commercial gain.

She could not provide an example of why the policy is needed or what problems it addresses.


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