Confusion Abounds over U.S. Forest Service's Proposal on Commercial Photography

The U.S. Forest Service has proposed restrictions on filmmaking and commercial photography that is alarming many photographers, with fines for not having a license to shoot in National Forests $1000 if caught.  Pop Photo puts it this way:

           "The rules would require members of the media, commercial outlets and non-profit groups to apply for special use permits (which could cost up to $1,500) except in cases of breaking news. Photographers and filmers shooting without a permit could be fined up to $1,000."

The U.S. Forest Service has always required a license for professional filming within it's borders, but the gray area worrying independent and professional photographers refers to "commercial photography".  So if you are doing a portrait session or plan on selling your images, or are taking images for a client, you will need a pricey new permit to do so.  

The U.S. Forest Service insists that "the proposal does not change the rules for visitors or recreational photographers. Generally, professional and amateur photographers will not need a permit unless they use models, actors or props; work in areas where the public is generally not allowed; or cause additional administrative costs."

On the other hand, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell tried to reassure those concerned that “The fact is, the directive pertains to commercial photography and filming only – if you’re there to gather news or take recreational photographs, no permit would be required. We take your First Amendment rights very seriously.” 

So... then..... an independent freelancer such as myself would only need a pricey permit if I were using a prop or working with a model or actor, yet the directive pertains to commercial photography, which essentially refers to work done for a client or that is meant for profit.  

Yes, it's a bit confusing.   

Photographers at Zion National Park.... thankfully this doesn't apply our National Parks... yet, unless they have designated national forestry areas in them.  

Photographers at Zion National Park.... thankfully this doesn't apply our National Parks... yet, unless they have designated national forestry areas in them.  

The question I have not been able to find an answer to pertains to the proposal itself.  My assumption is that any "proposal" from federal agency such as the U.S. Forest Service would require Congressional approval before implementation.  Surely a Federal Agency cannot simply issue edicts at will without oversight and accountability.  Although, now I'm recalling some of the actions of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and I'm starting to wonder...

The bottom line is that it if you didn't need a permit before, you probably won't need one now. The difference is the hike in price.

U.S. Forest Service's directive on Commercial Photography and Filmography can be located here.