Just this month we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. For the most part this was a true celebration, a chance for environmental groups and the federal government to show a legacy of public good. The progression of areas covered under the Wilderness Act since its passing show that there is a strong conservation ethic in the United States that we can all be proud of. Along with it, most organizations and many members of our Federal Government used the anniversary milestone as an opportunity to promote the expansion of lands protected under the act. We need more wilderness, not less. And that's why this most recent rule change proposed by the U.S. Forest Service has us baffled.
Under the original Wilderness Act legislation, it is illegal to shoot video in wilderness areas without a federal permit. Few people know of this rule, and it's widely broken by individuals with GoPro cameras or other film equipment. Now the U.S. Forest Service is pushing for legislation that would add restrictions to photography as well. According to the Oregonian, any photography and commercial filming would require a $1,500 permit and be subject to a$1,000 fine if a permit is not obtained. The Forest Service later dismissed the costs, saying they were associated with an all together different directive, but did not clarify the costs associated with this proposed directive. Details of this proposed Directive 2709.11-2013.1 can be viewed here.
The Forest Service has been receiving a lot of strong feedback for this proposed rule, from federal legislators to the many media outlets that will be impacted by the rule change. Larry Chambers, spokesman for the Forest Service, has already announced that the public comment period on the rule change has been extended a month from the original date until December 3, 2014.
We at Outdoor Project are strongly opposed to this legislation for the following reasons:
1. THE DIRECTIVE CREATES BARRIERS THAT ALIENATE PEOPLE FROM NATURE.
We support the notion that more wilderness protection is a good thing. And we also believe that without tangible experiences with nature people will stop caring about it. People do not protect what they don't know or care about. At Outdoor Project we use media to inspire people to get outside more often. The Forest Service should not create barriers that alienate people from nature. In contrast, we all (including the U.S. Forest Service) need to openly promote having experiences with nature, and photography and film are some of our greatest tools for communication.
2. IT LIKELY POSES A VIOLATION OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT.
“The Forest Service needs to rethink any policy that subjects noncommercial photographs and recordings to a burdensome permitting process for something as simple as taking a picture with a cell phone,” U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told the Oregonian. “Especially where reporters and bloggers are concerned, this policy raises troubling questions about inappropriate government limits on activity clearly protected by the First Amendment.” Going beyond Senator Wyden's poignant statement, wilderness legislation is still subject to flaws and debate. We should be able to air those conversations in the open and not subject them to prior approval of the U.S. Forest Service, as this directive would require if there was a visual component of the message as well.
3. LEGISLATION IS HIGHLY UNENFORCEABLE.
Think of all the millions of U.S. citizens, let alone foreign tourists, who visit our national parks (most of which are protected by the Wilderness Act) and other wilderness areas annually. The resources it would take to ensure this law is enforced is huge. Given that the permitting process to just get into some areas in the parks is already a complicated process, how do they expect to handle what would likely be an inundation of photo requests from wilderness-based organizations?
It's critical that you too voice your opinion. You can file an official comment until December 3, 2014 HERE.