The U.S. Forest Service is developing a rule that would let it decide whether the media could film or take photos in wilderness areas.
The Forest Service would issue permits based on the potential impact to wilderness areas as well as the story topic. A fee of up to $1,500 could also be required to receive a permit.
Broadcasters say the rule gives the government too much control over the content of news stories.
Ron Pisaneschi, general manager of Idaho Public Television, said he and other broadcasters are prepared to fight the rule.
“Certainly the kinds of stories we've done over the years wouldn't be possible if we're constantly having to get permits, pay fees, and frankly the length of time it takes to go through that process,” he said.
The rule has been in place as a temporary directive for several years. Idaho Public Television's nature program “Outdoor Idaho” was barred from the Frank Church Wilderness Area in 2010 until the governor and Idaho's Congressional delegation stepped in.
The requirement does not apply to private citizens -- though it's unclear where the government would draw the line. The distinctions between commercial and noncommercial uses are based on regulations from 1990 that pre-date blogs and social media.
A Forest Service spokesman told The Oregonian newspaper that reporters who don’t get the proper approval could face a $1,000 penalty. The regulations do include an exemption for breaking news situations.
The Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, Liz Close, did not respond to a request for comment.
The rule covers only wilderness areas overseen by the Forest Service, including the Mt. Adams Wilderness in Washington, the Mt. Hood Wilderness in Oregon, and the Ansel Adams Wilderness in California.
A public comment period runs through November 3.