Skip to content

A Picture of the Wilderness

By: Eugenia Jones

“If you’re there to gather news or take recreational photographs, no permit would be required.”  -U. S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell

It wasn’t a pretty picture when the media and public recently expressed their displeasure at a proposed directive by the U. S. Forest Service (operating through the U. S. Department of Agriculture) clamping down on commercial photography and filmmaking.  With some news agencies and social media postings implying that news media and private photographers taking photos on federal lands might face permit fees of $1,500 or $1,000 per violation fines, the media and public quickly reacted to the agency’s perceived infringement on First Amendment rights and the rights of the public to enjoy federal lands. Their public outcry, especially through social media, led to U.S. Forest Chief Tom Tidwell releasing information clarifying the proposal’s intention.

“The U.S. Forest Service remains committed to the First Amendment,” Tidwell commented.  “To be clear, provisions in the draft directive do not apply to news gathering or activities.  The fact is, the directive pertains to commercial photography and filming only-if you’re there to gather news or take recreational photographs, no permit would be required.  We take your First Amendment rights very seriously.”

In addition, the directive applies only to federal land officially designated as “wilderness.”  There are only two wilderness areas in Kentucky including the Beaver Creek Wilderness Area in McCreary County.

The policy on commercial filming, which has already been in effect for several years, is being readjusted in the current proposal to better protect federally designated wilderness areas from film crews and to require movie film crews to consider locations other than wilderness areas prior to permitting and filming.  News coverage filming of breaking news is exempt from permitting, but there is still some concern about the methods used to determine what subject matter is considered “breaking” news.  Some feel there is a need for clarification on the Forest Service’s definition of commercial filming, especially with today’s popularity of helmet cameras, etc. being used to post videos on sites such as YouTube.

The proposal does not change current policy on still photography.  In general, as has been in the past, professional and amateur photographers and reporters do not need permits unless they use models, actors, or props; work in areas where the public is generally not allowed; or cause additional administrative costs.

Since the public and the media have expressed such an interest in the proposed directive, the U.S. Forest Service has extended the public comment period from November 3, 2014 until December 3, 2014.

In addition, some local concern has been expressed about restrictions on photography in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area which falls under the auspices on the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior.  According to park officials and literature, it is the policy of the National Park Service (NPS) to allow filming and photography when it is consistent with the protection and public enjoyment of park resources and does not interfere with the public’s normal use and enjoyment of the park. Permits are required if the filming, videotaping, sound recording, or still photography:

-involves the use of a model (or any on-camera talent), set, or prop;

-involves taking photographs of vehicles or other articles of commerce for the purpose of commercial advertising;

-could result in damage to park resources;

-could result in significant disruption of normal visitor use;

-or requires access to areas normally closed to the visiting public.

Generally, permits are NOT required for:

-visitors using cameras and/or recording devices for their own personal use;

-sound technicians, and film or video news crews at breaking news events;

-or NPS filming or photography.

Anyone wishing to read the full U.S. Forest Service proposal or who would like to make public comment may do so at the following link:



Leave a Comment