Photographers face fines for taking pictures in National Forests

A color landscape by Ansel Adams.
A color landscape by Ansel Adams.
A color landscape by Ansel Adams.

Free speech is under attack as the federal government is attempting to institute a permitting system for photography taken on so-called “public land” controlled by the U.S. Forest Service. Under the directive, professional photographers will be obligated to purchase a “special-use permit” for the privilege of shooting pictures inside tax-funded national forests.

In usual form, the restrictions are being manifested gradually — first targeting photographers who make their living off of shooting pictures. Under the proposed directive, commercial photographers will face fees of $30 to $800 per day to professionally document the beauty of the parks.

“We take your First Amendment rights very seriously,” paradoxically stated U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “The directive pertains to commercial photography and filming only.”

What the forest bureaucrat fails to acknowledge is that “commercial photography and filming” is inextricably tied to the First Amendment. The right to free speech does not end when the product holds value to another party. No distinction between casual and professional speech is made in the constitution.

By definition, commercial photography includes any image or movie that can potentially be sold to anyone else. That might include individuals shooting stock nature photography, magazine photographers, documentary filmmakers, or even theatrical productions. It could include professional landscape photographers like Ansel Adams or the tourist who takes a unique shot that gets the attention of a publisher.

Commercial photography is so broad in nature that restrictions on it have the potential to affect anyone with a camera. But the government dubiously assures us that commercial photography is the “only” field being restricted.

Public commenting on the policy has been extended to December 3, 2014. Readers are encouraged to submit a formal comment demanding that no aspects of photography be restricted and turned into a paid privilege.

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Submit formal comments here:
Directive for Commercial Filming in Wilderness; Special Uses Administration


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