Say What? U.S. Government Wants to Charge You $1,500 for Photographing in Wilderness Areas

©Dan Havlik

In a move that is sure to spark outrage amongst nature and wildlife photographers, the U.S. Forest Service wants photographers to pay for a $1,500 permit if they plan to shoot images on Federally-owned wilderness areas. Permits would be required even if you’re shooting images or video with a smartphone.

If you don’t have the permit and are caught taking photos, you could be fined as much as $1,000, according to a report in the Oregonian.

Even if you do pay for the permit, your wilderness photo shoots would have to first be approved by the Forest Service, and they would have to meet specific criteria, including being educational in nature. Photography for any type of advertising purposes on Federal wild lands would be out of the question.

The permit plan, which has not been finalized yet, has already come under fire from photographers, First Amendment advocates, and policiticians.

“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. Sen 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.”

If you want to sound off about this controversial plan, the Forest Service is accepting public comment until November 3rd.

(Via WaPo)

Marianne's picture

Please do not enact this policy or any policy of this sort. I rely on photographers to bring me the beauty of our national forests and parks because I am disabled and cannot travel to them. Also - it is simply unAmerican. Don't we pay for the upkeep of these parks and forests? doesn't that give American citizens the right to enjoy them and take pictures? I don't understand why anyone would try to do this. OUTRAGEOUS!

Home Planet Images's picture

Shame on Shutterbug for such biased “reporting” and sensationalism. You’ve created quite a frenzy with photographers with your misinformed article. Quoting an alarmist in Oregon is not research, and you owe a huge apology to those you’ve misled. The Forest Service proposal is not new and it does not affect 99 percent of photographers. It is aimed at collecting fees from the media and commercial enterprises. Please, for the sake of honesty, retract this silly article.

John Taylor's picture

From the Federal Register document....

"Specifically, this policy provides the criteria used to evaluate request for special use permits related to still photography and commercial filming in congressionally designated wilderness areas. "

It appears to make no mention of media or commercial enterprises only.

I can see collecting for commercial use such as filming movies or even documentaries, but not for still taken for any purpose other than that, or for media access. The media is protected by the constitution against something like this, and it needs to remain that way.

Admittedly, I didn't read the entire document, but when they state something specifically like that, it leaves too much room for future interpretation and abuse.

jimploggersr's picture

The article is misleading because it leads you to believe that this applies to ALL photographers when, in fact, it does not.

stephnd's picture

Still photography is defined by the agency, see It specifically refers to "use of still photographic equipment on National Forest System lands that takes place at a location where members of the public generally are not allowed or where additional administrative costs are likely, or uses models, sets, or props that are not a part of the site's natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities.". If you're concerned, definitely comment here:!docketDetail;D=FS-2014-0007. But I fail to see the reason for panic. If you want to make a film and bring sets and lots of equipment into Federal land, off-trail, then getting a permit seems pretty reasonable. And I just don't see where this directive or the underlying FSH or reg affect everyone else. I could be missing something, but I'm just not finding it.

Dkay's picture

"Still photography—use of still photographic equipment on National Forest System lands that takes place at a location where members of the public generally are not allowed OR where additional administrative costs are likely, OR uses models, sets, OR props that are not a part of the site's natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities." [emphasis mine]

This description could be seen to apply to the sole professional photographer who sells prints for profit, who hikes in for the day with their equipment in their backpack, uses that equipment to get the perfect shot for, say a calendar, note cards, still images for gallery shows (all basically for sale), then hikes back out. A $1500 permit to avoid a $1000 fee is not doable because either option wipes out any chance to make a profit for a photographer starting out in Landscape or other photography genres (Yes, fashion photography included, I'd totally hike in a friend for a glamour shoot -nature is a beautiful backdrop).

Point is, this needs further clarification for the small time photographer that is trying to make their career while still being respectful to the environment (it can be done) and not be fined what would amount to a large chunk of money on a business expense report. And while this is potentially not meant for those photographers, all of those ORs leave a vague description that could be used to keep out those fledgling photographers.

I will say that it does not look to apply toward non-commercial use, such as tourists driving through.

Still... a young, broke Ansel Adams would not agree with this, and as a result (if this was applied in his time) the efforts of protecting land would not have come to fruition. Yes, I realize he was using his art for the awareness of protecting land, but you see my point. A lot of people do not know the beauty that tempts those to visit and, dare I say, the disallowing of commercial photography via expensive permits, just may cause a ripple-effect of lowered tourism of Americans, and foreigners alike.

Until there is a further clarification, this should not pass.

Home Planet Images's picture

This is not a new law. The intention was always and still is, the review of impact on public land of commercial enterprises (think Chevy Truck commercial) and charging fees to help mitigate the costs of providing services to film crews, etc. You, and 99 percent of us with a camera, are perfectly free to photograph to your heart's content. I really wish Shutterbug would do the responsible things and take down this very misleading story.

Dan Havlik's picture

Home Planet Images - There is, indeed, a lot of confusion over this rule but I think you are oversimplifying the issue. The U.S. Forest Service's current Wilderness Photography Rule (which was only temporary) is about to expire and the $1,500 permitting fee would become permanent. The language in the permitting rule (which you can read in the link in our story) *is* very vague (as many photographers have pointed out) and could, potentially, affect anyone taking photos with even a smartphone. (Not likely, but it *is* possible. If you don't agree, prove it.) Shutterbug is not the only site reporting this; it has been widely covered in the photography community and the mainstream media. USA Today, of all places, has done a good job of detailing the potential problems with this new permit rule. Check it out:

-Dan Havlik, Shutterbug's Editor-in-Chief

Home Planet Images's picture

On September 25, the US Forest Service began a comment period to set permanent guidelines for permits and fees for commercial filming and media activities in federally designated Wilderness areas. A draft of these rules and fees have been in place for four years on a temporary basis and pertain to enterprises that tend to have an impact on Wilderness protected land. The USFS is seeking to clarify the language as the rule goes on the books permanently. A total misinterpretation of this went viral yesterday as blogs and photography websites like Shutterbug hysterically declared that it was going to cost us all $1500 to photograph on public lands. Read your own article, Shutterbug; it's blatantly misleading. The USFS could have done a better job with their P.R., certainly, but it doesn't excuse the floodgate of mass outrage caused not by the USFS, but by the irresponsible sites that ran these articles. The Forest Service doesn't need this garbage: they are busy being heroes and fighting real fires.

Dan Havlik's picture

I'm going to have to agree to disagree with you, Home Planet Images. But to the public comment point: photographers can let their voices be heard directly about this proposed US Forest Service photography permit rule either via this link or by sending an email directly to:


STMahlberg's picture

How shameful of you Shutterbug. This has nothing to do with regular run of the mill photographers. This is for advertising and movies; we have the same thing here in Nevada and it's been that way for years.

I stopped watching the news media for the same reason that they can't tell the truth... it's too bad I'll be treating Shutterbug the same way from now on... I shall no longer be renewing my subscription unless there is a retraction of this article.

albert.martin's picture

Wilderness areas are, by law, very special areas. No motorized or mechanical vehicles, including bicycles are allowed into these areas. Repairs to trails must be done using only hand tools. It is, to quote the Act, "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." Because these areas are unique (and I have hiked in some of them), I totally agree with the Forest Service for restricting commercial photography in them. My other thought is that personal use photography should be allowed, first because people will take personal pictures and second, sometimes it is impossible to differentiate between Wilderness Lands and other forest service lands. Somebody taking a picture from the front door of Zeeland Hut will include the Pemigewasset Wilderness in the picture. My two cents is: Pictures taken for personal use should not be restricted. Pictures taken for commercial use or any type of sale to the public should be restricted or completely banned.

Wags3351's picture

Great job on the article! Love the editorial work.... Anytime the government wants to leave ambiguous language up to the interpretation of themselves, it's all bad for the citizens. Typical over-reaching government trying to make a buck.... Love the way you stuck by your guns too on not caving in to the previous posts on the ultra weak threat of the dreaded cancellation..... Get the language right first, then put it to vote....

Channel IO's picture

Protection of an area, especially the wilderness by government makes's their job to ensure those who would don't abuse it.

Charging someone for access to it, whether park admission or permits to stay, photo or video it should already be covered by our tax dollars that are squandered away needlessly already.

I just had a four paragraph diatribe, but decided, what's the point, it only serves to get us onto yet another 'government list' as delusional, paranoid dissidents for questioning their overreach.

What can be done so the tides revert to where the government serves us instead of us serving them?

Censorship, embedded journalistic limitations to "HOW" the truth can be told, according to their wishes, and now we must PAY for the privilege?!

Did I go to sleep one night and wake up in one of the other multiverses?
Man, time travel can be a bitch!

-I pay for the water I drink (Nestle' has already taken the rights away from many of the 1.2 billion of India's people who must now rebuy the water that is already scarce to them...if you can't afford the rupees to pay...die)
-I pay for the food I eat. (and if Monsanto, Burpee and other seed companies and food processors get their way and continue patenting the food we eat, we will be at their mercy to get 'permission' to eat food grown by us)
-I pay to eliminate these from my body via governmental systems or face threat of arrest for indecent exposure, littering, defacing government property, lewd acts, etc. using what nature has already provided. (Do they charge bears, deer, wolves and other wildlife to use government sewage?...I guess that's another story)
-Now we are being charged for what we see that we want to share with the world?

What about the birds in the morning... will be be charged for hearing them, or better yet, charge the birds a 'chirping' fee/tax?

When do they start charging/taxing us for the air we breath (you know that's on the way!)?

Being charged/taxed for the installation/implementation of equipment and services of more efficiently delivering water, sewage, trash, etc. makes sense only as far as to pay for these items. Not for these items to be metered.

Basically, charging $1,500 for taking photos of the wilderness is so far off to think that

A. most professional photographers don't make that much on every shoot, there for paying the government more to do our job than we'll actually make.
B. Telling everyone else, if you can't afford to pay us for taking these photos, fuck off or be at risk and/or threat of fines and incarceration (I guess we need to maintain our world domination in having the most people incarcerated in the world per capita.

I am tired of government agencies that are supposed to be "non-profit" entities charging us for things we as humans have an inalienable right to already.

The words describing what is actually going on would only land me in several 'interviews','watchlists' and 'no-fly lists' that I'm not already on.

philipatkinson's picture

Lots of views, a few rants.

Can someone explain clearly what the policy is?