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US National Forest Service (NFS) Proposes Restrictive Permits for Still Photography on Public Lands: $1000 Fine for Taking a Picture?

Well, when I read something like this, I almost feel like crying. I hardly recognize my country any more, but this hits home.


From “7 things”:

This isn't just about the media. The policy applies to documentary film crews, non-profits and private citizens who might use a photo or video to sell something or earned a salary while in the wilderness area. They'd need a special permit first.

Add your comment on the NFS plan at the NFS we site.

Scary stuff. Particularly for me, since I love photographing in the wilderness. This is just the foot in the door; “clarify” is Orwellian doublespeak leading to nastier things later. The NFS can bide its time after all. Moreover, what is clear to Ranger Rick mighty be unclear to Ranger Jane or Ranger Bob; it gives such personnel the right to harass anyone anytime with a camera (or iPhone or Google Glass or GoPro or whatever). A surefire recipe for abuse and harassment: traditionally (police) need only a flimsy pretense and this is no different in its ugly risks.

There is simply no need for such regulations; shooting truck commercials with a crew is one thing (to use an example), the other 99.999% is a grotesque power grab.

NFS proposal. Since prose and practice differ and are modified by bureaucrats (“interpreted”) once approved, rules only get tighter and tighter over time unless a public outcry results after enough casualties. The “backing off” was almost certainly a negotiating ploy to force into place rules to start, a trial balloon to see what sticks*, to see just how far the power and authority might be extended on the first effort. The noose can then be steadily tightened over time, incrementally. That’s how it works.

* “We took public input and compromised to address concerns” (standard boilerplate weasel words) = “We made an outrageous proposal so that plenty of leverage remains after the really outrageous stuff was watered down, and thus we are nice guys for compromising”.

The only acceptable answer is to drop the whole inane proposal, and to fire those responsible for allowing such ugly proposals to surface. But only one person I know has that kind of influence. Still, he has a phone.

Who is the press and what is a camera and which pictures are personal and which are news and which are commercial and many more questions arise. Which means that the hapless person taking a picture can be threatened at will by Ranger Rick. Use a tripod, get a fine?

Public lands are not fiefdoms for bureaucrats to wallow in, but a critical public resource for a wide variety of users and uses. Public. The very idea of restricting photography on public lands shows a intellectual disconnect with an activity having arguably not just zero impact but a positive one. But of course these proposed rules are a naked grab for power begetting the need for more money, more personnel, etc. They have nothing to do with protecting lands or public benefit.

The NFS and BLM lands here in the USA offer wide open spaces in which one can wander and enjoy through the outdoors. Where else can one go for such experiences? National Parks are heavily restricted and are surely nice, but do not offer the same opportunities. But to see photography proposed as a restricted activity is deeply disturbing (this is not about ATV usage here!), but it is deeper than that, since the sense of freedom on such lands could quickly become lost as more and more activities require permits. A permit for breathing, peeing, and pooping come next. Don’t laugh.

Note that while I enjoy wilderness areas, I’ve long opposed creation of new ones, because such areas are now used as political bludgeons to further extremist agendas (e.g. to deny access to a wide variety of uses and users not meeting the approval of extremist environmentalists). This is happening right now in the Eastern Sierra, with a proposed patchwork quilt of new wilderness areas designed expressly to deny access to areas containing established critical resources such as tungsten. Areas clearly not wilderness. The Pine Creek area I enjoy is on that list, and I hope the addition fails.

Over the years, I see (in the Eastern Sierra) symptoms of the spreading disease not all of which I can articulate here: steadily increasing closures of long-established roads (including some I’ve enjoyed), labeling roads as “trails” so as to close them, intimidation lawsuits against owners exercising decades-old legal rights to maintain access to private property, forced removal of historically notable mining structures (Pine Creek), blockage of green energy projects (Pine Creek 1.2 MW turbine having no above-ground impact), NFS personnel in full SWAT-team regalia). Talk to locals in the Eastern Sierra; you won’t find many (or any) fans of the NFS or NPS. The NFS now seeks to extend its scope via regulatory processes; such things only grow like kudzu, and never shrink. As I see it, the NFS has become a festering sore on public lands, its mission debased and corrupted from core values long established. These proposed regulations in context are no surprise at all.

NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association) note

On September 25, 2014, the U.S. Forest Service issued Proposed Regulation FSH 2709.11, Chapter 40, which would impose the requirement of permits and fees in circumstances that could substantially limit photographers' access to Federal lands under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service. Since so many NANPA members photograph on Federal lands, this was particularly troublesome to us.

Today, NANPA, together with the following organizations, joined in sending a letter to Thomas Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, to express their concerns about these new proposed rules.

American Society of Media Photographers
American Society of News Editors
Associated Press
Associated Press Media Editors
Associated Press Photo Managers
Association of Alternative Newsmedia
Digital Media Licensing Association
National Newspaper Association
National Press Photographers Association
Radio Television Digital News Association
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Society of Environmental Journalists

The Forest Service comment period has been extended to November 3, 2014, and we anticipate that further comments will be submitted in an effort to make rules less restrictive for photographers.

DIGLLOYD: a negotiating position that splits the difference is a disastrous approach: “less restrictive” and “for photographers”? That is a fool’s game. The goal should be complete repudiation of the proposed rules and political pressure on the authorities involved at NFS (demand their resignation).

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