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Forest Service Photography Rule Faces Bipartisan Critics in the Senate

Senators don't seem satisfied with the Forest Service's latest assurances that a proposal to require permits for commercial filming and still photography on federal lands won't apply to the press or to recreational photographers. In response to a letter from Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., a Forest Service spokesman told CQ Roll Call that journalistic activities would be exempt from paying fees and obtaining permits under the new proposal. "This proposal would not apply to journalists covering news events or the millions of recreational photographers that visit national forests every year. The proposed directive would apply only to commercial filming in wilderness areas, such as commercial television, Hollywood-type productions, and advertisements," the spokesman said in an email. But that response did not satisfy Barrasso. "Senator Barrasso isn't going to be satisfied being told, 'Just trust us.' He wants the Forest Service to withdraw the rule immediately," a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Republican said in an email. Forest Service head Tom Tidwell said last week the press was exempt from the regulations in response to previous criticism. The public comment period for the proposal has already been extended into the first week of December. "The US Forest Service remains committed to the First Amendment," Tidwell said last week. "To be clear, provisions in the draft directive do not apply to news gathering or activities." Barrasso had joined with Wyden in sending the letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack saying that a plain reading of the proposal would run afoul of the First Amendment's protections for the press. "The proposed directive is a direct violation of American First Amendment rights and likely unconstitutional," Wyden and Barrasso wrote. "This creates a serious litigation risk for the Forest Service, while providing no clear benefits for wilderness management." The move by the two senators follows a Sept. 26 statement from Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski expressing similar concerns. "Although The Wilderness Act does restrict commercial enterprise in wilderness areas, the Forest Service needs to exercise some common sense here," Murkowski said. "No one should have to fear that the federal government is going to use such a designation to restrict or prohibit you from news gathering or taking photos. If the Forest Service is intent on moving forward with its proposed regulation it must make clear that these kinds of activities are exempt." Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.