Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. And yes, this includes Senator’s Twitter feeds. This week, there was a media feeding frenzy after the Oregonian broke a story alleging that the Forest Service wants to charge you $1500 to take a photo of the Wilderness - and ignore the right to free speech while they’re at it. Outside Magazine, Adventure Journal and other news outlets ran with the article, and a couple of elected officials in Oregon even piled on, slamming the Forest Service.
Thing is, they don't have it quite right.
If you actually read the rule the Forest Service plans to institute, it will not affect your ability to Instagram from the Wilderness. The heart of the matter is the permits the agency requires for filming that has any commercial component – meaning it is used as an ad or sold at some point. With the proposed new rule, they are adding new criteria to get a permit for such use in designated Wilderness. Importantly, these permits only apply to things “other than noncommercial still photography.” So you can keep snapping photos, and so can the press. Not only is still photography exempt, these rules for commercial filming permits have been in place for a long time, and the Wilderness specific rules have actually been in effect for the last 4 years. All without much fuss.
Now, could the Forest Service have done a better job explaining all this and avoiding the blowback? Yes. Are there ways the existing and new permitting rules could be improved? Sure. And is it worth considering the heavy burden the permits may place on near-amateur filmmakers, whose work can help draw more people into the outdoors? Absolutely.
But before any news outlet jumps to conclusions and waves the First Amendment flag – or reposts others that have done just that – they should crack open the Federal Register and take a closer look. The Forest Service has since responded, saying they have no intention of limiting free speech.