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Montana senators defend First Amendment rights for media

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Montana Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh on Sept. 25 called on the U.S. Forest Service to withdraw a proposed restriction that could limit the press from getting needed information to the public.

The senators said the directive could have prevented the media from reporting on issues of public interest.

“We have grave concerns and are deeply skeptical of the government putting limits on activity protected under the First Amendment,” Tester and Walsh wrote to the Forest Service.

Later that day, USFS Chief Tom Tidwell released a statement clarifying the proposal, which would have required the media to obtain special permits to photograph or shoot video on federal wilderness lands.

“The U.S. Forest Service remains committed to the First Amendment,” said Tidwell in the statement. He corroborated this sentiment the next day in an interview with The Washington Post.
“Based on the feedback we’ve [received] so far, we’ll make changes to make sure this doesn’t apply to news gathering,” Tidwell told The Post on Sept. 26.

The proposal does not apply to private, recreational photographers, and is meant to solidify a directive the USFS has implemented for four years to require commercial photographers and videographers to obtain a permit before gathering footage on wilderness lands.
With public outcry growing, the USFS on Sept. 25 also said it would delay finalizing the rule. In their letter to Tidwell and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the senators called for the rule to be withdrawn and redrafted after consulting with stakeholders. They also called for at least 90 days of public comment when the proposal is reissued.

The USFS extended the public comment period from Nov. 3 to Dec. 3.

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