The U.S. Forest Service is reversing its controversial policy of requiring the press to buy permits to film or take photos in wilderness areas.
The Forest Service had planned to make the temporary policy permanent. A swift storm of outrage from journalists, free-press advocates and politicians forced Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell to rethink this position.
In his Nov. 4 memo, Tidwell stresses that “news coverage in NFS lands is protected by the Constitution, and it is our responsibility to safeguard this right on the lands we manage for all Americans.”
The policy was inconsistently applied. In the nearly two years I’ve covered Olympic National Forest, permits have never come up.
But, as the Seattle Times showed in a recent story, the policy has led to incidents in which journalists were denied access or made to wait weeks for permission to film or take photos. In some cases, they were and required to buy liability insurance and were asked to pay fees ranging from $200 to $1,500.
Despite Tidwell’s assurances that the press is exempt from filming and photography restrictions, it might take a while before all Forest Service employees are clear on the rules. The old rules are still featured in Forest Service websites, including this one.
You can read Tidwell’s full memo below.