Two senators are asking the Obama administration to withdraw a rule that would require people to pay as much as $1,500 for a permit in order to take pictures or videos of U.S. wilderness areas.
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Tuesday after the U.S. Forest Service proposed a rule that requires commercial enterprises taking video of wildlife areas to first obtain a permit. The senators said the rule is vague and dangerous, and should be struck down or re-written.
"The proposed directive appears to create a very subjective and arbitrary system for deciding when permits would be needed to take pictures or film video in wilderness, and how much to charge for those permits," they wrote. "According to conflicting reports from agency officials, these permits, and potential fines, could be up to $1,500."
"The proposed directive is a direct violation of American First Amendment rights and likely unconstitutional," they added. "This creates a serious litigation risk for the Forest Service, while providing no clear benefits for wilderness management."
Under the proposed rule, the Forest Service could charge a fee as high as $1,500 for commercial filming, and a fine of up to $1,000 per photo if no permit is obtained. Those fines have raised questions from media outlets about whether the government would be able to deny permits to media outlets, depending on the content of the story they're producing.
Forest Service Director Tom Tidwell has said there is "no way" that the rule would infringe on anyone's First Amendment rights. According to the Statesman Journal in Oregon, Tidwell says media will not be required to pay a fee to bring cameras into wilderness areas.
The Forest Service also says the rule is needed to "issue and administer special use authorizations that will allow the public to use and occupy National Forest System lands for still photography and commercial filming in wilderness."
But Wyden and Barrasso said it's not clear "what problems this rule intends to solve." They said the Forest Service can already issue permits for the use of wilderness lands, and can stop certain activities on those lands.
"Americans should be able to celebrate, enjoy, and photograph these special places without worrying about excessive permits or penalties," they wrote. "If wilderness becomes a place defined by excessive regulation and agency power, Congress will think twice before designating future wilderness areas."
Read their letter here: