Commercial Filming and Photography Permits

Man and women commercial filming a jetboat on the Snake River

A commercial permit may be needed for commercial film and still photography activities on the National Forest. Regulations regarding commercial filming activities on National Forest and other federal lands were amended with the Public Law 106-206  which was signed in May 2000. This law provided definitions of filming activities, fee and cost recovery provisions, protection of resources, and use of proceeds.

When Do I Need a Filming or Photography Permit?

The requirement to obtain a commercial filming permit depends on the type of activity involved. The definitions, examples and criteria for the various activities listed below should help determine if a special use permit is required. However if you are using a drone or unmanned aircraft system (UAS) other regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and areas restrictions within the National Forest System apply to this use.

Personal use

If you are shooting still photographs or ‘home movies' for personal use (e.g. that does not involve advertisement of a product or service, the creation of a product for sale) then a special use permit is not required.

Breaking News

Breaking news is an event or incident that arises suddenly, evolves quickly, and rapidly ceases to be newsworthy. A special use permit is not required for activities involving breaking news. Examples of breaking news are:

  • A plane crash in the forest
  • A wildland fire
  • A search and rescue

Still Photography

Still photography uses photographic equipment to capture still images on film, digital format, and other similar technologies. National Forest visitors and professional or amateur photographers do not need a special use permit to take still photographs unless the still photography will:

  • Use models, sets or props that are not part of the site's natural or cultural resource or administrative facilities.
  • Take place where members of the public are not generally allowed. An example would be an area closed to the public to protect winter range for wildlife.
  • Take place at a location where additional administrative costs are likely. An example would be sites that are so popular with photographers the Forest Service is required to regulate use.

Commercial Filming

A special use permit is required for all commercial filming activities on National Forest System lands. Commercial filming is defined as the use of motion picture, videotaping, sound recording, other moving image or audio recording equipment on National Forest System lands that involves the advertisement of a product or service, the creation of a product for sale, or the use of actors, models, sets or props, but not activities associated with broadcasts for news programs. For purposes of this definition, creation of a product for sale includes but is not limited to a film, videotape, television broadcast or documentary of historic events, wildlife, natural events, features, subjects or participants in a sporting or recreation event and so forth, when created for the purpose of generating income. Use of a drone or unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for commercial filming purposes is also regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and area restrictions within the National Forest System still apply.

Commercial or still photography will not be permitted if the Forest Service determines that any of the following criteria apply:

  • There is a likelihood of resource damage that cannot be mitigated.
  • There would be an unreasonable disruption of the public's use and enjoyment of the site (beyond short term interruption).
  • The activity poses health or safety risks to the public that cannot be mitigated.

Requesting a Commercial Filming or Still Photography Permit

Filing Proposal Process: As described in 36 Code of Federal (CFR) 251.54 , the process begins with the proponent's contact with the local Forest Service special use adminstrator visiting about your proposal. Due to workload priorities, it is best to contact the Forest Service 3-6 months prior to the proposed filming date, and begin the discussion. As a result of this discussion, the District Special Use Administrator may request more information, or suggest alternatives which may better suit the proposal, reduce environmental analysis costs, or shorten permit processing timelines.

For convenience a  'Commercial Photography and Filming Request' (1 MB, Adobe PDF) form can be used, or the proponent has the option of submitting all of this information in another summarized format.  The above form is not an application for a special use permit. It is only provided as a convenience to summarize the proposed activity which will be evaluated by the Forest Service.

Evaluation Process: After the initial discussion, the requester will need to provide detailed information about the proposal. This information will be used to begin the Forest Service's evaluation first and second level screening process found in 36 Code of Federal Regulation 251.54, (e).  Follow-up contacts should be made as a result of the screening evaluations. and requester informed on their results.

Application Processing: If the proposal meets the criteria for the evaluation, then the special use administrator will notify the proponent that the agency is ready to accept a written application for a special sue authrorization. Guidance for how to apply for a permit will also be given.  Other key elements of the permitting process include:

  • Insurance: Written proof of insurance must be given to the Forest Service Special Use Administrator. The policy document must name the United States Government as additional insured and provide for thirty (30) days written notification of cancelation (see next section). A copy of other documents, such as applicable County encroachment permits, letters of permission from private land owners, other permittees, etc., will be required prior to filming.
  • Forest Service Representation: The production company may be required to provide a Forest Service representative to act as a monitor and fire guard during filming. The monitor will act as the District Ranger or Area Manager's representative in approving or disapproving proposals which occur during filming and will also have the authority to suspend activities for noncompliance. If a Forest Service representative is to be provided, a collection agreement between the Forest Service and production company to cover the salary and mileage of the monitor may be required.
  • Performance Bond: A performance bond or other acceptable methods of surety may be required if the proposal has a potential of resource damage or would require a major clean-up effort such as the removal of a constructed set, use of special effects. etc. The District Ranger or Area Manager will determine if a bond is required on a case-by-case basis.
  • Permit Fee and Recovery Costs: The permit fee is based on the number of production employees and days required to complete the filming. All fees are due and payable, preferably by cashier's check or money order, prior to filming (usually when the permit is signed). Instructions for fee payments are included on the permit (payable to "USDA Forest Service"). Recovery of Costs may also be applied to recover costs incurred as a result of filming activities or similar project, including but not limited to administrative and personnel costs.
  • Authorization: The permit, as well as the collection agreement if required, must be signed by an authorized production company representative. Proof of authorization to execute documents on behalf of the company must be provided. If the president of the company is unavailable to sign, a letter of authorization must accompany the individual authorized to sign the documents.

Special Considerations and Areas

Use of an Authorized Outfitter and Guide: Commercial filming activity requirements still apply while utilizing the services of an authorized Outfitter and Guide on the National Forest. Currently, none of the Forest 's outfitter and guide or other recreation-based special use permits are authorized to conduct commercial filming activities. Outfitter guide permits allow specific activities relating to transporting or guiding forest visitors in designated areas. Area permits such as ski areas or tram permits are also specific in their authorizations and locations. In order to comply with the terms of the special use permit, all proposed commercial filming activities or inquiries from potential clients should be directed to the local Forest Service Office. Common proposals that would require a Forest Service evaluation and permit include:

  • Promotional or product advertisement (e.g. Commercial for a 4x4 truck driving a forest road),
  • Outdoor show for hunting, fishing, hiking (e.g. Public Broadcasting feature of snowshoeing in a wilderness, or sturgeon fishing on a wild & scenic river),
  • Short clip for professional services/spokesperson endorsements (e.g. Snowboarding spokesperson testing equipment),
  • Film Production Company (e.g. Regional filming company shooting an elk hunting DVD).

Commercial Filming Activities in a Wilderness Area

Proposed commercial activities proposed in designated wilderness areas such as Eagle Cap or Hells Canyon are reviewed for compliance with existing regulations, and Forest Service policy. Commercial filming proposals are evaluated for compliance with having a primary objective of disseminating information about the use and enjoyment of wilderness, is wilderness-dependent and an appropriate non-wilderness substitute does not exist. Forest Service policies also direct the reviewer to look at minimizing wilderness resource impacts.

Other Information about Commercial Photography and Filming

USDA Forest Service 'Special Uses - Filming on Public Lands' link.