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:
- Because of this website, I now have a regular writing gig.
- I guide a couple of times a year
- Get the very occasional free piece of gear to review
- Get the even more (less? not a lot? 🙂 )occasional few dollars from an affiliate marketing sale
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 :
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.
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….
 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. 🙂