Commercial Filming and Photography on Federal Lands



Updated September 14, 2020
Commercial Filming and Photography on Federal Lands
Commercial filmmakers, videographers, and photographers
Agency Regulations
often seek to use federal lands as locations for their works.
Department of the Interior. In August 2013, DOI issued a
Historically, the major federal land management agencies—
final rule to bring three agencies—BLM, NPS, and FWS—
the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park
into compliance with P.L. 106-206 (78 Federal Register
Service (NPS), and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in the
52087, modifying regulations at 36 C.F.R. Part 5, 43 C.F.R.
Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Forest
Part 5, and 50 C.F.R. Part 27, respectively). In subsequent
Service (FS) in the Department of Agriculture (USDA)—
years—most recently in January 2018 (83 Federal Register
did not share a consistent approach to regulating
1664)—the Bureau of Reclamation announced its intent to
commercial filming and photography on their lands. A 2000
amend its regulations to accord with those of the other DOI
law, P.L. 106-206 (codified at 16 U.S.C. 460l-6d and 54
agencies. Special filming and photography restrictions for
U.S.C. §100905), directed the Secretaries of the Interior and
Indian lands administered by DOI’s Bureau of Indian
Agriculture to require permits and develop a consistent fee
Affairs (43 C.F.R. Part 5, Subpart B) remain unchanged.
structure for commercial filming and some photography on
federal lands. Pursuant to the law, the agencies have
The DOI regulations define commercial filming and still
established permitting procedures and are currently in the
photography consistently for BLM, NPS, and FWS and
process of standardizing fees. Legislation in the 116th
clarify which activities require a permit, in accordance with
Congress would alter requirements for the agencies’ fee
P.L. 106-206. The regulations state conditions under which
schedules and permits.
a filming or photography permit may be denied, such as if
the activity would cause resource damage, unreasonably
disrupt public use, pose health or safety risks, or violate the
DOI and USDA are in the process of standardizing fees
Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1131-1136) or other applicable
for commercial filmmaking and photography on federal
laws or regulations. Permit applications are to be processed
lands, which have served as locations for many wel -
in a “timely manner,” and permit denials may be appealed
known films such as Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, and The
to higher levels of DOI management. The regulations also
Hunger Games.
discuss the more limited circumstances in which a permit is
required for news-gathering activities (defined as filming,
Statutory Requirements for Permits and Fees
videography, and still photography carried out by a
representative of the news media). Among other conditions,
Under P.L. 106-206, the Secretaries of the Interior and
such a permit is required only if obtaining it will not
Agriculture must require permits and establish reasonable
interfere with the ability to gather the news.
fees for commercial filming on federal lands. The fees must
take into account (1) the number of days of filming, (2) the
Permit holders are responsible for two types of payments: a
size of the film crew, (3) the amount and type of equipment,
location fee that provides a fair return to the nation for the
and (4) other factors that the Secretaries deem appropriate.
The fees must provide a “fair return” (undefined in the law)
use of federal land and repayment of costs incurred by the
government in processing the request and administering the
to the nation for the activity. In addition to fees, the
permit. The permit holder also has liability and bonding
Secretaries must recover any administrative, personnel, or
requirements.
other costs incurred by the agencies during filming. Permits
are not to be issued if the activity would damage resources,
Forest Service. FS follows regulations for commercial
unreasonably disrupt public use and enjoyment of a site, or
filming and photography permits (36 C.F.R. 251) which
pose health and safety risks.
were in place prior to passage of P.L. 106-206. FS
collaborated with DOI on a new fee schedule proposed in
Still photography requires a permit or fee only if it is in an
2013 (see below). Also, in 2014, FS proposed but did not
area that is not ordinarily open to the public, if additional
finalize a directive to establish additional criteria for
administrative costs are likely, or if models or props other
than the site’s own resources are used.
commercial filming and photography in congressionally

designated wilderness areas (79 Federal Register 52626).
For example, such activity would have had to be focused
Fees and costs collected under P.L. 106-206 are to be
primarily on disseminating information about wilderness,
available for use by the collecting agencies without further
would have had to preserve the area’s wilderness character
appropriation. The majority of funds are retained at the site
as defined in the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1131 ff.), and
at which they were collected, and the fees may be used for
would have had to be wilderness-dependent (unable to be
purposes such as backlogged repair and maintenance
carried out elsewhere). Some Members of Congress and
projects, interpretation, signage, facility enhancement,
other stakeholders objected to the proposed FS directive,
resource preservation, fee collection, and law enforcement.
especially questioning whether it would infringe on the
First Amendment rights of news reporters. FS stated that
https://crsreports.congress.gov

link to page 2 Commercial Filming and Photography on Federal Lands
the proposed directive would not affect news gathering in
charged by individual agencies. Certain fees would
wilderness areas. In 2019, FS announced the withdrawal of
increase, and others would decrease, depending on the
the proposed rule (84 Federal Register 47443).
agency involved and other factors. For example, a
commercial filming crew of 60 people working at an NPS
Proposed Fee Schedule
site such as Grand Canyon National Park currently pays a
Along with the August 2013 DOI final rule, DOI and
fee of $750 per day. Under the proposed schedule, the fee
USDA jointly published a proposed fee schedule to set
would increase to $1,000 per day. By contrast, a crew of
uniform fees for commercial filming and photography
five people filming at a BLM site in California or Utah
activities (78 Federal Register 52209). Table 1 shows the
currently pays a fee of $250 per day, but under the proposed
proposed fees.
schedule the fee would decrease to $75 per day.
Table 1. Proposed DOI/USDA Land-Use Fee Schedule
In scoring the 2000 legislation, the Congressional Budget
for Commercial Filming and Photography
Office stated that the act’s effects “would depend on many
behavioral factors that cannot be predicted with
Commercial Filming

confidence.” For example, to the extent that the new fees
Number of People
Fee
represent increases from previous amounts, they could
bring in more revenue or they could discourage filmmakers
1-3, camera and tripod only
$10/day or $250/month
and photographers from using federal sites. Congress may
1-5, more than a camera and tripod
$75/day
monitor the financial effects of the new regulations and any
new fees over time.
6-10
$150/day
Legislation
11-30
$350/day
In the 116th Congress, H.R. 2106 would amend P.L. 106-
31-50
$650/day
206 to allow film crews of five or fewer to pay an annual
51-70
$1,000/day
fee of $200 for filming on federal lands and waters. The
proposed $200 annual fee would differ from the agencies’
More than 70
$1,500/day
proposed fee schedule, which would charge film crews of
five or fewer with more than a camera and tripod $75 per
Still Photography

day. The bill would exempt individuals and small
Number of People
Fee
businesses that already hold certain other permits from
needing a commercial filming and photography permit. The
1-3, camera and tripod only
$10/day or $250/month
bill clarifies that news gathering is not considered a
1-5, more than a camera and tripod
$50/day
commercial activity that would require fees and permits. A
prior version of this bill (H.R. 1944) was introduced in the
6-10
$100/day
115th Congress and was subsequently incorporated into a
11-20
$200/day
larger public lands bill (H.R. 3668), which was reported out
of committee. The bill did not receive a vote on the House
21-30
$300/day
floor.
More than 30
$450/day
Another bill in the 116th Congress, H.R. 1326, has similar
Source: 78 Federal Register 52209.
provisions to H.R. 2106 and also would require the
Note: Fees for stil photography would apply only in cases where the
agencies to finalize their fee schedule no later than 180 days
photography requires a permit (see above).
after the bill’s enactment. H.R. 1326 would exempt from
paying fees (but not from cost recovery) film crews of three
The proposed amounts were based on current fees charged
or fewer that qualify as small businesses and use only a
by BLM and FS for commercial filming and photography,
camera and tripod. Prior versions of this bill were
as well as on public comments received on a draft fee
introduced in the 115th Congress (S. 733) and the 114th
schedule previously proposed by NPS and discussions with
Congress (S. 556).
state and local film commissioners and industry
representatives. The agencies received public comments but
H.R. 5521 would allow commercial filming and
have not published a final schedule or made subsequent
photography, at the discretion of the Capitol Police, in
announcements, other than a September 2013 extension of
portions of the U.S. Capitol grounds where these activities
the comment period for 30 days (78 Federal Register
currently are prohibited.
58342).
Financial Effects of New Fees
Mark K. DeSantis, Analyst in Natural Resources Policy
In some cases, the fees proposed for uniform use across the
IF10340
four agencies represent a change from fees currently being


https://crsreports.congress.gov

Commercial Filming and Photography on Federal Lands


Disclaimer
This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff to
congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and under the direction of Congress.
Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other than public understanding of information that has
been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the
United States Government, are not subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be
reproduced and distributed in its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include
copyrighted images or material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permissio n of the copyright holder if you
wish to copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.

https://crsreports.congress.gov | IF10340 · VERSION 6 · UPDATED