The controversy over Idaho Public Television’s request to film in a federal wilderness area is spreading. The Associated Press via the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., reports that pro-wilderness groups say that filming within areas such as the 2.3-million-acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, which IPTV has been doing for 30 years, may not reflect “appropriate stewardship” of the lands. IPTV’s show Outdoor Idaho annually follows students doing conservation work within the wilderness. Last month its cameras were denied access by a U.S. Forest Service supervisor, who said theirs was a commercial enterprise. That decision was reversed after Gov. Butch Otter and Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson complained the Forest Service had inappropriately barred cameras, and the Forest Service conducted an investigation.
But more voices are questioning pubTV cameras venturing into the wilderness, as Oregon Public Broadcasting also does. Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics fears relaxed guidelines will mean more intrusive filming. And at least one member of the Student Conservation Association filmed by the Outdoor Idaho crew in late May objected to appearing on camera, on grounds it violated the “wilderness ethos,” according to AP.
In the wake of the dustup, temporary guidelines for wilderness filming permits took affect last Thursday (June 3) and expire in December 2011, at which time the Forest Service must have in place permanent regulations. Previously, Forest Service managers were directed to issue permits for commercial filming only when the projects contributed “to the purposes for which the wilderness area was established.” Under new criteria, special-use permits are issued if filming has a “primary objective of spreading information about the enjoyment of wilderness or its ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic or historical values; helps preserve the wilderness character; doesn’t advertise products or services; and if there aren’t suitable film sites outside wilderness.”
The show addressed the situation on its website, saying, “. . . please remember this: Outdoor Idaho is definitely not ‘commercial.’ And we look forward to documenting many more stories on the public’s land.”