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US Forest Service Chief: I will ensure the First Amendment is upheld under agency commercial filming directives

WASHINGTON, SEPTEMBER 25, 2014 AT 8:45 PM EDT - The U.S. Forest Service today released information to clarify the agency’s intentions regarding a proposed directive for commercial photography and filmmaking in congressionally designated wilderness areas.

“The US Forest Service remains committed to the First Amendment,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “To be clear, provisions in the draft directive do not apply to news gathering or activities.”

The proposal does not apply to news coverage, gathering information for a news program or documentary. However, if a project falls outside of that scope and the filming is intended to be on wilderness land, additional criteria are applied to protect wilderness values. In that case, a permit must be applied for and granted before any photography is permitted.

The agency issued a Federal Register notice on Sept. 4 seeking public comment on a proposal to formally establish consistent criteria for evaluating requests for commercial filming in wilderness areas as it has on national forests and grasslands.  The proposed directive on commercial filming in wilderness has been in place for more than four years and is a good faith effort to ensure the fullest protection of America’s wild places.

“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,” said Tidwell. “We’re looking forward to talking with journalists and concerned citizens to help allay some of the concerns we’ve been hearing and clarify what’s covered by this proposed directive.”

Congressionally designated wilderness areas are protected by the Wilderness Act of 1964 and must remain in their natural condition. This is achieved in part by prohibiting certain commercial enterprises, and the agency is responsible for ensuring its policies adhere to that standard.

The public originally had until Nov. 3, 2014, to comment on the proposal. Based on the high level of interest, the agency will extend the public comment period to Dec. 3, 2014.

The proposal does not change the rules for visitors or recreational photographers. Generally, professional and amateur photographers will not need a permit unless they use models, actors or props; work in areas where the public is generally not allowed; or cause additional administrative costs.

Currently, commercial filming permit fees range around $30 per day for a group up to three people. A large Hollywood production with 70 or more people might be as much as $800. The $1,500 commercial permit fee cited in many publications is erroneous, and refers to a different proposed directive.

The Forest Service has long required permits according to statute for various activities on agency lands, from cutting a Christmas tree to filming a major motion picture, such as the 2013 Johnny Depp movie “The Lone Ranger.” The Disney production obtained a permit to film part of the movie on the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.

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