Photographing the Wilderness Area – Yes, you can

Can’t people read? Maybe they just don’t want to.

Last week, several stories came out that the US Forest Service wasn’t going to allow anyone to take pictures in wilderness areas.

Since I hike in Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness Area in Pisgah National Forest and so much of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail goes through wilderness area, I paid attention to this development. The ruling didn’t pass the smell test but I read the Facebook rants.

How could they deny you the right to take photographs and videos of your family?

Some comments didn’t understand what a Wilderness Area was. Others couldn’t tell the difference between a national forest and a national park. But they all screamed about their first amendment rights.

I looked up the rules on the US Forest Service website. It goes on and on–see the bottom of this blog post– but here’s the gist.

The Forest Service would require a permit for commercial filming, like making a movie. Still photography, even the commercial kind, wouldn’t require a permit on land where the general public can access freely. I don’t know about you but I can only go where the public can go.

Look at it another way.

What if the movie Cold Mountain had been filmed on Cold Mountain in Shining Rock Wilderness? The picture above is of the view from the top of Cold Mountain. There would have been trucks, vans, RVs, and even food trucks accessing the mountain. No one involved with the movie would have walked.

I would have let it go as Facebook hubris but yesterday (Friday September 26), NPR had a piece on this issue. It was obvious that no one had actually read the proposed ruling. Here’s a bit that I’ve lifted (yes, out of context)

Chuck Brown is an Idaho attorney who’s represented news outlets in several Western states over his 37-year career.

BROWN: All they are doing is sending out alarming language that isn’t streamlined to their goal whatsoever.

Chuck Brown sounded so self-important. I wished I could have found a picture of him on the web.

So, read the rule and go out in the wilderness to hike and photograph. After all, you have to enter the MST photo contest.

Send your comments to the US Forest Service.

Here’s the heart of the proposed rules from the Forest Service.

(a) Commercial Filming Fee.–The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture (hereafter individually referred to as the “Secretary” with respect to lands under their respective jurisdiction) shall require a permit and shall establish a reasonable fee for commercial filming activities or similar projects on Federal lands administered by the Secretary. Such fee shall provide a fair return to the United States and shall be based upon the following criteria:
(1) The number of days the filming activity or similar project takes place on Federal land under the Secretary’s jurisdiction.
(2) The size of the film crew present on Federal land under the Secretary’s jurisdiction.
(3) The amount and type of equipment present.

The Secretary may include other factors in determining an appropriate fee as the Secretary deems necessary.
(b) Recovery of Costs.–The Secretary shall also collect any costs incurred as a result of filming activities or similar project, including but not limited to administrative and personnel costs. All costs recovered shall be in addition to the fee assessed in subsection (a).
(c) Still Photography.–(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), the Secretary shall not require a permit nor assess a fee for still photography on lands administered by the Secretary if such photography takes place where members of the public are generally allowed. The Secretary may require a permit, fee, or both, if such photography takes place at other locations where members of the public are generally not allowed, or where additional administrative costs are likely.
(2) The Secretary shall require and shall establish a reasonable fee for still photography that uses models or props which are not a part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities.
(d) Protection of Resources.–The Secretary shall not permit any filming, still photography or other related activity if the Secretary determines–
(1) there is a likelihood of resource damage;
(2) there would be an unreasonable disruption of the public’s use and enjoyment of the site; or
(3) that the activity poses health or safety risks to the public.

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