Allen B. West

Dumbest government overreach ever: $1000 fine for wilderness photos?

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One of the first amendment rights we enjoy here in America is a free press – it was designed to ensure Americans were informed with the truth. While responsible, objective journalism may just be a thing of the past, we should never infringe upon the freedom of the press — and somebody needs to remind the Obama administration about that. We all know this administration has issues with transparency, and his White House has been confronted by the press — and attacked them back.

However, a recent development really makes you wonder what’s going on. As Cosmopolitan reports (no, I don’t regularly read Cosmo, in case you were wondering), “This week’s most profoundly wrongheaded display of nonviolent press infringement comes from an unlikely source: The U.S. Forest Service. New rules being finalized in November state that across this country’s gloriously beautiful, endlessly photogenic, 193 million acres of designated wilderness area administered by the USFS, members of the press who happen upon it will need permits to photograph or shoot video. And yes, it does sound like one of the dumbest things you’ve ever read.”

I concur, this is certainly one of the dumbest things I’ve EVER heard but it’s just another example of progressive socialism and the burgeoning statist mentality –it’s just another form and example of taxation. Now, you just have to ask, how does a USFS Ranger delineate between an American tourist taking nice shots and a member of the press? Perhaps this new rule is truly intended to obstruct the ability of any American — actually anyone — from taking photos or video?

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“It’s pretty clearly unconstitutional,” said Gregg Leslie, legal defense director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Alexandria, Va. “They would have to show an important need to justify these limits, and they just can’t.”

Then again Mr. Leslie, when has government ever felt the need to justify its actions? And therein lies the slow encroachment of tyranny — the ability of the bureaucratic state to institute any rule it wants. And consider this, how do the American people find out about this rule? Why is this not being brought before the elected representatives for consideration? And what of the voices of the Western states delegations first of all — oops, as we’ve reported, the federal government already consumes much of their land anyhow.

Cosmopolitan reports “Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, didn’t cite any real-life examples of why the policy is needed or what problems it’s addressing. She didn’t know whether any media outlets had applied for permits in the last four years.”

And that, folks, is government at its best — they don’t know why and can’t present examples — but they just know what’s best.

“The Organic Act of 1897 is the legislation responsible for establishing the modern U.S. Forest Service, clearly provides: The jurisdiction, both civil and criminal, over persons within such reservations shall not be affected or changed by reason of the existence of such reservations, except so far as the punishment of offenses against the United States therein is concerned; the intent and meaning of this provision being that the State wherein any such reservation is situated shall not, by reason of the establishment thereof, lose its jurisdiction, nor the inhabitants thereof their rights and privileges as citizens, or be absolved from their duties as citizens of the State.”

As the article points out, “All U.S. citizens enjoy the right of the First Amendment, and courts have very clearly upheld the rights of a citizen to take photographs taken in a public place — even the unpopular ones, and even ugly, boring ones of trees and mountains. And as for “duties as citizens of the State.” Well, it’s called the Fourth Estate for a reason. That’s what the U.S. Forest Service is hurting here: the understanding that the public has a right to this land, and right to know about it, with media more expressive than words.”

Well, Ms. Close of the Forest Service, doesn’t seem to agree. She said the agency was implementing the Wilderness Act of 1964, which aims to protect wilderness areas from being exploited for commercial gain. “That’s kind of a distortion,” says Peter Essick, an award-winning National Geographic photographer who has worked with the Forest Service before, as well as the other agencies that oversee American wildernesses for years to produce truly remarkable work. “When the Wilderness Act was created in 1964, there were plenty of people doing photography,” he says. “Nothing in the Wilderness Act says photography is not approved or banned.”

I truly believe this is one of those “unifying” issues. I was just out in Silverthorne, Colorado this past weekend and was overwhelmed by the grandeur and beauty — and now we’re going to restrict and infringe upon the Constitutional right to enjoy and capture the splendor on film? I also enjoy my time SCUBA diving, so will this restriction also extend to places like the John Pennekamp reef near Key Largo? We can all agree this is government gone wild and here is what we can all do.

Cosmopolitan says, “to their credit, the Forest Service has opened themselves up to comment. Call them out, and post some photos on Instagram and Twitter while you’re at it. If you don’t, then silence is consent, and you’ll reap what you have sown and get the government you deserve — a tyrannical one.

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