Forest Service now allowing filming in wilderness areas

Bobby Magill
June 15, 2010
Fort Collins Coloradoan

Causing a furor among some conservationists, the U.S. Forest Service will allow commercial filming in national forest wilderness areas nationwide through the end of 2011 as long as filming doesn't disturb the land and the movie being made focuses only on wilderness values.

The Forest Service on June 3 issued a temporary rule for its forests, called an interim directive, outlining specific circumstances in which someone could use a wilderness area for commercial filming.

The directive gives the agency 18 months to decide on a permanent rule governing moviemaking in wild areas.

Roosevelt National Forest in Larimer County has four wilderness areas.

Moviemakers must get a permit to film in wilderness areas, and they have to pledge that their film will focus on the use of wilderness or its ecological, scientific, historical or educational value.

Photographers venturing into wilderness areas to take still images for commercial purposes are exempt from the rule as long as they're not using props or photographing in an area off-limits to the public.

However, if the same photographer were to take video with the same still-photography camera or, say, a video-capable iPhone and sell that video, the photographer might be violating federal law if he or she does not have a permit, said Terry Knupp, Forest Service Wilderness Program manager in Washington, D.C.

Making a movie with subject matter that does not focus on wilderness values is not permitted. There are more restrictions: Filmmakers can't use motor vehicles to make their movies, can't harm the land and can't interfere with public use of the wilderness.

The Associated Press reported June 3 that the issue arose recently when Idaho Public Television was allowed to film student-conservation efforts in a wilderness area after the Forest Service initially denied the TV crew a permit. But the Forest Service caved to political pressure from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who complained the agency's commercial filming regulations for wilderness areas were too restrictive.

Causing a furor among some conservationists, the U.S. Forest Service will allow commercial filming in national forest wilderness areas nationwide through the end of 2011 as long as filming doesn't disturb the land and the movie being made focuses only on wilderness values.

The Forest Service on June 3 issued a temporary rule for its forests, called an interim directive, outlining specific circumstances in which someone could use a wilderness area for commercial filming.

The directive gives the agency 18 months to decide on a permanent rule governing moviemaking in wild areas.

Roosevelt National Forest in Larimer County has four wilderness areas.

Moviemakers must get a permit to film in wilderness areas, and they have to pledge that their film will focus on the use of wilderness or its ecological, scientific, historical or educational value.

Photographers venturing into wilderness areas to take still images for commercial purposes are exempt from the rule as long as they're not using props or photographing in an area off-limits to the public.

However, if the same photographer were to take video with the same still-photography camera or, say, a video-capable iPhone and sell that video, the photographer might be violating federal law if he or she does not have a permit, said Terry Knupp, Forest Service Wilderness Program manager in Washington, D.C.

Making a movie with subject matter that does not focus on wilderness values is not permitted. There are more restrictions: Filmmakers can't use motor vehicles to make their movies, can't harm the land and can't interfere with public use of the wilderness.

The Associated Press reported June 3 that the issue arose recently when Idaho Public Television was allowed to film student-conservation efforts in a wilderness area after the Forest Service initially denied the TV crew a permit. But the Forest Service caved to political pressure from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who complained the agency's commercial filming regulations for wilderness areas were too restrictive.

Commercial filming in national forests is common in Northern Colorado, with three permits issued by the Arapaho-Roosevelt national forests in 2008 and five in 2009, forest spokesman John Bustos said. Those permits, however, were not all specific to wilderness areas.

"Wilderness shouldn't just be a backdrop for the next blockbuster," said Sierra Club Colorado regional representative Roger Singer, who said he doesn't have a problem with the new rules as long as provisions of wilderness laws are respected.

But there's plenty of reason to protest commercial filming in wilderness areas because it not only might violate the federal Wilderness Act, but the Forest Service's regulation of that filming could infringe upon free-speech rights, too, said Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.

"In the Wilderness Act, Congress said there should be no commercial enterprises in wilderness areas," he said. " 'No' doesn't mean only those commercial enterprises we happen to like. 'No' means no."

Stahl said the Forest Service is trying to market itself and wilderness values, from which many positive things can come.

But "the federal government is here saying we allow you to make commercial movies in a wilderness as long as we approve of the message," he said. "Since when is the government regulating (what I can say as a filmmaker)?"

Knupp said government approval of commercial filmmaking hinges on "public benefit."

"We're aware of . . . the connection with the First Amendment for free speech, and our intent is not to regulate that amendment," she said. "Our intent is to regulate what's appropriate for wilderness."


Originally posted at http://www.coloradoan.com/article/20100615/NEWS01/6150324/Forest-Service-now-allowing-filming-in-wilderness-areas

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