US Forestry Service wages war on photography in national forests

The new, stupid ban on "professional" photography violates the First Amendment, the Service admits that there's no actual need for it, and it will undermine the visibility of the national forests at a time when they are under unprecedented threat from developers, the energy sector, and mining.

Under a two-year-old rule that is about to pass into law, the Forestry Service will require "members of the press" to pay for a permit before making any recordings or still images in the 193 million acres of US national forests. Though the rule has been in place for two years, it seems that no one has actually ever applied it — but once it's a law, the Forestry Service has vowed to start.

Any "journalist" in the forests needs to pay $1500 for a permit, and will face fines of $1000 per shot for unauthorized photos. Members of the press who shoot in US national forests are already required to follow the same rules as everyone else — leave-no-trace camping, not disrupting others — and the Forestry Service can't cite any problems that this is supposed to solve ("It's not a problem, it's a responsibility," -Liz Close, acting wilderness director for the Forestry Service).

You can (and should) submit comments to the Forestry Service online.

"When the Wilderness Act was created in 1964, there were plenty of people doing photography," he says. "Nothing in the Wilderness Act says photography is not approved or banned."

When he goes out to shoot, Essick takes the utmost care to the follow the rules of "leave no trace," and he does it with 65 pounds of gear on his back. He's a nature photographer: Not trashing the place is pretty much rule number one.

There's another layer to this, too. The USFS and the other agencies have used photography since their inception to tell the story of the wilderness. All the words in the world can't show you as much as one beautiful Ansel Adams photo. Coincidentally, Essick spent lots of time photographing the Ansel Adams Wilderness, named for the famous photographer, for his own book.

Over and over again, the establishment of an American wilderness, the National Parks, the core idea that you can escape to a more primitive, but nonetheless essential part of this country, has been referred to as America's best idea. It's why city-dwelling, suburb-raised punks like me can have so many feelings toward land that has filled our lungs with fresh air and our hearts with wonder. It's why I swell with pride when my little sister, gritting her teeth through cuts and tears, finished her first hike. It's why I look forward to enjoying it with my children when they come along.

The U.S. Forest Service Wants to Fine You $1,000 for Taking Pictures in the Forest [Eric Vilas-Boas/Esquire]

7 things you should know about the Forest Service's media restrictions in wilderness [Rob Davis/Oregon Live]

(Image: Me on Taft Point, falling, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite, California, Cory Doctorow, CC-BY-SA)

(Thanks, Patrick!)