This post will soon be worth $1500

Some thoughts on the proposed photo permit fee from the USFS


For many outdoor bloggers like myself, writing about the outdoors is more of an avocation rather than a vocation.

A past time, that while it won’t “make a living” (read: pay for my food, clothing and shelter) does provide some nourishment for the soul.

I love the outdoors.  Though I can no longer spend months at a time in the outdoors, I do try to get out as much as I can. 

Writing about my thoughts on the outdoors and taking photographs of where I have been has also turned into an enjoyable hobby as well.

This enjoyable past time has brought me a a very small amount of what could be considered financial compensation:

In total, it is not a lot of money by any means. But it does help pay for the six pack of beer that is sitting in my fridge. 🙂

Under new  proposed USFS guidelines, the many people like myself who have an outdoor oriented hobby that makes a small amount of money may have to pay a $1500 tithe. The tithe will be to the  USFS for the privilege of taking photos or film and making money off it in someway.  Apparently my website, and many others, are now considered a commercial entity. And if we don’t pay the tithe? A $1000 fine could be levied.

The pertinent rules from the linked proposal:

1. “…for still photography and commercial filming in wilderness.”

45.1c.5.g “Would not advertise any product or service.”

One argument is that this proposal would be hard to enforce. And that it is really meant for large productions that make use of USFS lands for commercial purposes.


  • I think of the many “grassroots” documentaries being filmed  with small handheld cameras
  • The people who write for small town newspapers or magazines…
  • The many guides who post photos of their trips from USFS lands…
  • People who sell stock photos
  • Cafe Press knick-knacks
  • Photo calendars
  • Self-published authors
  • And so on….

Not exactly a lot of money in many cases. For every John Fielder, there is a retiree selling photos at a church fundraiser.  For every Wild, there is a Idaho Public Television  documentary made by students whose filming was temporarily stopped the USFS.

All liable to be fined under the new rules unless a permit is paid for. And that is assuming a permit is even sanctioned for the person or group.

Am I exaggerating?

Never underestimate what a cash strapped and/or ideologically motivated  government agency will do to set an example.  Most organizations, and more than a few people, will purchase a permit to  be on the “up and up” just to avoid any such problems.

Liz Close, acting director of the US Forest service, stated that because of the Wilderness Act of 1964,  the USFS has a mandate. A mandate to protect the USFS land,and the designated wilderness areas to be precise, from commercial exploitation [1]:

Under the rules, permit applications would be evaluated based on several criteria, including whether it spreads information about the enjoyment or use of wilderness or its ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic or historical values; helps preserve the wilderness character; and doesn’t advertise products or services. Officials also would consider whether other suitable film sites are available outside the wilderness.

Note that her words indicate a permit may not always be approved!

I think most of us can agree that any filming and/or photography that is disruptive should have a special permit. A movie, anything that shuts down a section of trail, etc.

But the way the proposal as written it is far too broad and gives a government bureaucrat far too much leeway as to defining, as stated by Close,  “… a responsibility … We have to follow the statutory requirements”   on what is acceptable in a wilderness area.

Please make your voice heard. Register your comment here by November 3rd! 

UPDATE 9/30/2014:  When a Republican and a Democrat with vastly different political philosophies demand more clarification and not just assurances, you know the proposed directive must be re-written! 🙂

Finally, I’ll leave with the  words of the Beatles as performed by Stevie Ray Vaughn….

 [1] A USFS official worried about exploiting the land for commercial gain! Hoo boy! How “ironical”!!! The same organization that has 374,883 miles (603,316 km) of roads; and harvestsof 1.5 billion trees per year according to Wikipedia. 🙂



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James Bullard
James Bullard
9 years ago

If the USFS really wants to protect the public forests from commercial exploitation they could start by not sell of lumbering rights for less than it costs the government to build the access roads. But to get back your point in terms of still photography I can think of only a handful of photographers who actually make a living at marketing their photos but I’m sure there are thousands who make less than that fee every year (including yours truly) from their photography. Of course there is also the point that the public lands belong to ‘we the people’ and… Read more »

Roleigh Martin
9 years ago

The full document is here: notice this statement: “Q5. How does the Forest Service define commercial filming and still photography? The following definitions for commercial filming and still photography, found in FSH 2709.11, section 45.4, track the requirements for a permit for those activities in the Act of May 26, 2000 (16 U.S.C. 460l-6d): Commercial Filming. The use of motion picture, videotaping, sound-recording, or any other type of 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… Read more »

Roleigh Martin
9 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Paul, I’m in agreement with you that public comments (protest) should be made, but any such protest should fully read the fine print involved and not rely solely on some articles written about it. I do think it is poorly written. But I did appreciate the clarification from them that “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.

9 years ago