A recent announcement by the Forest Service has photographers worried about potential changes that could mean fees up to $1,500 to work within national parks and forests, and a requirement to get a paid permit to create national park photography.
After news outlets broke the story Sept. 24, the initial outrage prompted the the Forest Service to release statements clarifying the rules, but without any official change in the legal statement, photographers are still worried what the proposed changes could mean.
Initially, news reports estimated permits all the way up to a whopping $1,500 to take photographs within national parks. In their clarifying statement released just a few days later, Forest Service officials said $30 is a better estimate for a crew of up to three people per day. Fees for not obtaining permits can cost up to $1,000.
The Forest Service has also changed who the proposed rule would apply to just a few short days after the announcement. Initially, even journalists would be subject to the rule except in the event of breaking news such as a forest fire. The idea that park employees would determine whether or not a story should be news sparked an outcry and concern over First Amendment rights. The latest statement from the Forest Service says that the permit would be for commercial use only
—not for media or tourists —just those earning a profit from images or footage shot within national forests.
While the updated statements from the Forest Service are less worrisome, opponents of the measure are quick to point out that the legal text hasn’t changed, and reads the same way it did when it appeared that even media crews could see permit costs up to $30.
According to the Statesmens Journal, the Forest Service first said the permit applied this way:
“All organizations, including documentary film crews, news organizations, non-profits, and other entities, including private citizens planning to use produced material to raise funds, sell a product, or otherwise realize compensation in any form (including salary during the production) are subject to review.”
In a later statement to the same news outlet, the Forest Service clarified:
“Generally, professional and amateur photographers will not need a permit unless they use models, actors or props; work in areas where the public is generally not allowed; or cause additional administrative costs.”
Despite the vastly different statements, the notice from the Forest Service has not been updated since September 4.
“I understand what he’s saying the intent is, but the language doesn’t not reflect that intent,” Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, told the Associated Press. “If they’re serious about it, they need to craft unambiguous language that exempts news-gathering if that’s their alleged intent, so there’s no question that someone out on a news story wouldn’t have a ranger or other employee saying ‘You need a permit’.”
The notice states that “Public comment is invited and will be considered in the development of the final directive.” The full notice can be read and commented on at the Office of the Federal Register’s website.
Featured photo by Linda Tanner, Flickr Creative Commons