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National Forests Require Permit for Commercial Filming

forest service filming
Two videographers set up their equipment on the Helena National Forest. (Brandan Schulze/US Forest Service Northern Region photo)
If you’re planning to commercially film in National Forests, you’ll need a permit.

If you’re filming for personal use, no problem. However, there are areas of confusion. For instance, Brandon Smith, in a USFS news release, noted that if there are advertisements such as logos in the introduction or credits of a film (even if shown only at festival or online), it is commercial and requires a permit.

Permits are usually not required for news reporting, such as wildfires or search and rescue. Also, still photographs don’t require permits unless models, sets or props are used or requires additional work from the Forest Service.

A Special Use Permit is issued by the District Ranger or Forest Supervisor. Hunting shows, commercials, documentaries and films like “A River Runs Through It” require such a permit.

Because the potential impacts and conflicts need to be considered, requests for a permit should be submitted at least two weeks before the filming.

By the way, commercial filming in the wilderness areas are not often allowed, due to the limited amount of commercial activities permissible in wilderness.

When in doubt, contact the Forest Service. Check all the details at the “special film website.

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