As someone who has made a living writing about and photographing wilderness areas, among many topics having to do with Michigan’s national forests, and others, it’s troubling to see the U.S. Forest Service attempt to move in the direction of requiring a special permit to produce “commercial work” in those areas.
This piece, found on Midcurrent, a great fly fishing blog, describes the changes that may in store for journalists.
Fortunately, it appears the U.S. outdoor writing community has roundly criticized the decision. And, it appears in the Midcurrent piece, that the forest service is backtracking, clarifying that no permit will be required to produce news stories, documentaries or features in those locales. But another piece by Idaho Public Television suggests the reality may be less clear.
The move isn’t without precedent. Special permits are already required to film or photograph in national parks but those requirements appear to apply mostly to large or complex commercial productions, of one sort or another. Breaking news stories are exempt. Hiking a trail and writing a story about it or shooting photographs of the trip does not appear to require a permit.
As is pointed out in both pieces, outdoor writers have for years gone in to write stories and features about all sorts of topics, from the plight of spotted owls and the conflict with timber cutters to features about great travel destinations and/or analysis of prospective wilderness designations. Many of those stories would not be considered breaking news, but they could be considered commercial works because they are sold to publications, or are produced by staff of those publications or for television.
Should a special permit (and fee) be required each time a journalist sets foot in a wilderness area? I think not. Outdoor journalists may make a living selling their stories and photographs, but most of their works serve to inform the public, and, as such, provide a service to federal forest management agencies.