Monday, August 29, 2011

Taken Any Illegal Photos Lately?

The Above Photos Are Just A Few Of Thousands I Have Shot Here In Montana Over The Past 3 Or 4 Years - ON FEDERALLY OWNED PUBLIC LANDS. Are you aware that if I use these photos to illustrate the outdoor articles I write, I am technically in violation of the law...since I did not have the required Forest Service "Photography Permit" - which runs $150 per day! Just having these photos "published" here is likely a violation of that USFS regulation. And if any of you shoot a photo on federal lands, which is good enough to be publish, and too could be in violation of the law.

Following is an e-mailed letter sent to the USFS "Filming and Photography" offices this morning.

"Dear U.S. Forest Service;

I have heard of stupid federal regulations, but having to have a "filming" or "photography" permit on federal lands really takes the cake.

My guess is that this requirement has just made law breakers out of some 3,000 or 4,000 outdoor writers, photographers and editors - who have spent many days of hunting, fishing, camping and hiking in National Forests, or Heaven designated "Wilderness Areas". Since I was a young boy, 12 or 13, I have spent a great deal of my time reading the outdoor magazines, i.e. OUTDOOR LIFE, FIELD & STREAM, SPORTS AFIELD, etc. - and now I have to wonder if I have wrongly admired "law breakers" by envying the photos of them with a big bull elk they took up in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area...or with a huge brown trout caught along the "Miracle Mile" in Wyoming...or a dandy pronghorn taken on federally owned public lands anywhere here in the West. I have taken many such photos over the years - many of which have been published in major outdoor magazines - such as AMERICAN HUNTER, Petersen's HUNTING, and FUR-FISH-GAME.

Let me ask, what constitutes "commercial"?

Let's say, one of the millions of federal land users takes a photograph that turns out to be "outstanding"... enters it into a photo competition, gains recognition for the photo, and eventually a publisher buys the rights to that photo to illustrate an article...or for the cover of a magazine or book...or just does a limited edition print for home/office the photographer suddenly in violation of federal requirements?

Technically, if a photograph is published, in any way or is being used "commercially" - whether the photographer was paid for it or not.

Well, that would make a few million others in this country law breakers as well. Facebook is a commercial venture, and rest assured there are many, many illegal images published on the millions of pages making up that social network - taken on federal lands...without a photography permit.

Attached are several photos which would likely be considered commercial as well - since they have been widely used. I have them published right now on my LOBO WATCH website, and on one or more of the several blogs I also host. Sure, they are either U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service... National Park Service...or U.S. Forest Service photos. Were "Photography" permits issued for shooting these...or do these federal agencies feel they are above the law...and don't need no stinking permit???

I'm also attaching a photo I took on National Forest (Wilderness) land...without a permit...which has also been published. Did I break the law?

I would certainly love to hear back from you in regards to this extremely vague and widely unkown issue. There is a large and quickly growing contingent of photographers and videographers who are ready to take this on."

Toby Bridges

I shared this letter with a number of old friends in the outdoor media business, and heard back from one which was leaving this week to film a show for his Sportsman Channel program...and he assured me he would be hunting on state lands - claiming that the $1,000 a day permit to shoot the show on federal lands was just too cost prohibitive. He also stated that the extremely high USFS permit costs for large scale movie production is definitely the primary reason why so much of today's movie filming is done in Canada...and not in the U.S. More jobs pushed out of this country...due to stupid federal regulations!


  1. Thanks for writing that Toby... I was telling a photographer about that law yesterday. He is quite widely published and didn't know about it.

    I have some bow hunting friends that did a video, that had quite a problem with the USFS regarding this issue. It doesn't seem constitutional at all. Especially since we own the forest. We the people.

    People need to become aware of how far this agency thinks it can go and what it has a right to.. This is not private property.

    When defenders of wildlife or Oregon wild wants pretty pictures for their calendars, are they breaking the law? They use a lot of photographs from the public, to further their cause. Wouldn't that be illegal too?

    It looks like most of us are exempt if we are just taking pictures. Toby might still be in trouble if the tent is considered a "prop".