Just put the lens on the camera, US Gov’t outlaws commercial park photography


WASHINGTON, September 27, 2014 — The United States government doesn’t want you to be able to take a picture in our National Parks, if you intend to sell it, or air it. You can’t record the sounds of birds, if the recording is to be used in an educational film. You can’t film your student film class’s version of The Blair Witch Project, if the class plans to sell the DVD to parents.

The National Park System doesn’t want you to make any money, with its “public lands” in the background.

According to the USDA,

“Commercial photography is defined as the use of photographic equipment to capture still images on film, digital format, and other similar technologies found on National Forest System lands that: takes place at a location where members of the public are generally not allowed or where additional administrative costs are likely; or uses models, sets, or props that are not part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities (FSH 2709.11 2008-2 (CH 40)).” That sounds reasonable, until one realizes that no “models, sets, or props” are “part of the site’s natural … resources.”

In addition to an at least a two-week wait, you’ll need to pay a fee and get a Special Use Permit. You’ll also likely need to buy insurance to cover from one million dollars to as much as $5 million, if you’re using a helicopter — presumably including a tiny camera drone.

According to federal guidelines, there are “two types of fees for commercial filming or photography activities — a use fee and a ‘cost recovery’ fee.

  • The use fee is based upon: the number of days filming or photography activities take place; the size of the film/photography crew; and/or the amount and type of equipment present.
  • The cost recovery fee covers the administrative and personnel costs associated with issuing the permit.

The Oregonian, which broke the story, says, “Under rules being finalized in November, a reporter who met a biologist, wildlife advocate or whistleblower alleging neglect in any of the nation’s 100 million acres of wilderness would first need special approval to shoot photos or videos even on an iPhone.

“Permits cost up to $1,500,” says Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers, “and reporters who don’t get a permit could face fines up to $1,000.”

The Portland paper did a little legal surveying.

“It’s pretty clearly unconstitutional,” said Gregg Leslie, legal defense director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Alexandria, Va. “They would have to show an important need to justify these limits, and they just can’t.”

The Profit Police aren’t alone in these actions. There are also the Content Censors.

“A special use permit may only be issued for commercial photography or filming on a US Forest Service Wilderness Area if the activity has a primary objective of disseminating information about the use and enjoyment of wilderness …”

So, even if your project pays off the administrators and insurance peddlers, if you don’t have the right intentions, you’re not going to get a permit.

The Public Lands aren’t just off-limits to development; now, they can’t even be photographed, if you’re one of those dirty capitalists, educators, student groups, bird-watchers, or wildlife documentors. And your thoughts have to further the agenda of the Wildlife Police, as well.

The Denver Post Editorial Board says the newest directives sound like a gag: “Whose outdoor treasures are these, anyway? And what happened to the First Amendment?”

America’s public lands are now additional resources that are to be deliberately cut off from Americans. As usual, it’s “government for the people” at work.


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  • UndiscoveredAmerica.org

    National Forests are not part of the National Park System (Service). National Forests are a separate entity within the Department of the Interior. Additionally, Wilderness Areas are a separate designation for preserving pristine tracts of land without human alterations, like roads, cabins, lodges, restrooms, ect. So, this policy by no means includes Half Dome or anywhere with roads open to the public, which is where almost everyone visits.

    • patroy75


    • Richard Schneider

      National Parks are Interior, and have been operating under similar regs for several years now. National Forests are in the Department of Agriculture.

  • Tim Kern

    Also, the cutline, “Can’t take a picture… for the news” is incorrect. The policy specifically excludes breaking news coverage. But I didn’t write the cutline.
    Note that Wilderness Areas are often included in National Parks and Forests.My numerous links to original sources somehow disappeared in the posting. Sorry about that!

  • patroy75

    It’s NOT YOUR PARK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Andrew Shecktor

      It’s MY park if MY tax dollars pay for it!

  • Jim Burnett

    Sorry, the whole headline and story are basically incorrect in reference to national parks. The policy quoted in the story does not refer to any national parks (national forests are NOT the same as national parks) and the policy quoted does not ” outlaw” commercial photography – it does require a permit and payment of various fees to conduct that activity. I understand opposition to the policy, but based on the headline, this site is apparently interested in grabbing attention …but not in dispensing accurate information.

  • Roger Wittinger

    Stick to economics, Tim. This article is completely inaccurate and misleading and has no basis in fact whatsoever. Northwestern University must not teach basic research skills or encourage people to simply make up stories to call news.