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white-river

No permit is required to take this photograph and publish it.

The Forest Service has backed away from a plan to require expensive permits for journalists filming in wilderness areas after critics slammed it as blatantly unconstitutional.

The original Forest Service proposal would have required reporters and media crews to pay up to $1500 for wilderness permits or risk fines of up to $1,000.

The Forest Service's goal was to preserve the wild character of federally protected land, but the idea of restricting access to journalists pursuing stories on public lands was not well received. The plan kindled instant criticism from free press supporters, media organizations and Senator Ron Wyden. The Forest Service has been backpedaling since, and a November 4 statement from Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell rendered the fight officially over.

"News coverage on [Forest Service] lands is protected by the Constitution, and it is our responsibility to safeguard this right on the lands we manage for all Americans,” Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell wrote in a letter to agency directors.

Rob Davis of the Oregonian broke the news of the Forest Service's unequivocal reversal this week, about six weeks after breaking the original story on September 23 that started all the ruckus.

Tilly Jane, Cloud Cap and White River

Oregon has about 2.5 million acres of federally protected wilderness, including 311,448 acres in the Mt. Hood National Forest. 

The amount of protected land on Mount Hood grew in recent years after a 2009 wilderness bill added over 124,000 acres. That land includes some of the most popular areas on the mountain for hikers, climbers and backcountry skiers and snowboarders, such as Tilly Jane, Cloud Cap, White River Glacier and the Richard Kohnstamm Memorial Wilderness Area, named for the man who rescued Timberline Lodge from bankruptcy in the 1950s.

Anyone passing through those areas with a camera is now free to shoot freely and to share their photos and/or videos with the Oregonian or Shred Hood or any other print or digital publication that might be interested in publishing their work. No permit required. Here at Shred Hood we have published wilderness trip reports from backcountry adventurers such as John Loseth, Asit Rathod and Ben McKinley, and we plan to keep publishing those reports without obtaining any permits from government agencies.

At what point does a shred film become commercial?

Shooting shred footage for commercial films, however, is a different story. The Forest Service has been trying to update its policies and procedures around the filming of commercial movies in the backcountry after years of criticism that that the rules seem randomly enforced and confusing. Wilderness permits have been required for commercial films for a long time, but the rules are not always followed.

Back in 2006, for example, the great backcountry skier Chris Davenport climbed and skied all 14 Colorado peaks over 14,000 feet high, in a series of adventures filmed by Ben Galland. The following year, in April of 2007, the Forest Service retroactively denied Galland and Davenport a permit to film in protected wilderness areas. This decision came after Davenport had been involved in 20 ski films over 10 years - none of which involved a Forest Service permit.

It's a tricky issue, especially when you consider how many people are filming in wilderness these days, using drones, LED lights, helicopters and snowmobiles to replicate the bliss of shredding powder in remote terrain. The resulting films range from high-energy edits of young athletes rebelliously pushing boundaries to the big-money extravaganza of Warren Miller's latest production.

At what point does a film become "commercial" enough to warrant a government permit?

Chief Tidwell's unequivocal statement resolves the wilderness permit issue for journalists, but for filmmakers the issue is far from resolved.