NPS issues interim rules for filming in park areas

Published 11:38 am Monday, March 1, 2021

On Feb. 22, the National Park Service announced interim guidance, in response to Price v. Barr, regarding the management of filming in park areas. Under the guidance, low-impact filming will be exempt from advance notice and permit requirements, while other filming activities may need a permit to address potential impacts to resources and the visitor experience. Until further guidance is issued, the NPS will not require location fees, application fees or additional cost-recovery charges.

Under the interim guidance, the NPS will no longer distinguish among different types of filming (commercial, non-commercial, news gathering). Low-impact filming activities in areas open to the public may occur without any advance notice to the NPS or the need to obtain a permit. The guidance defines “low-impact” as outdoor filming activities in areas open to the public (excluding areas managed as wilderness), consisting of groups of five persons or fewer, and involving equipment that will be carried at all times – except for small tripods used to hold cameras.

Filming without a permit is prohibited in areas managed as wilderness or in areas that are closed to the public. All activities in park areas – including filming – must comply with all visitor use regulations, including those prohibiting resource damage, protecting wildlife or mitigating audio disturbances, as well as any restrictions on visitor use in the park’s compendium, such as restrictions on the use of unmanned aircraft systems (drones).

The Outer Banks Group of national parks issued eight commercial filming permits in 2020.

Non-low-impact filming activities require at least 10 days advance notice to the NPS by contacting the park directly. During this time, the superintendent will determine whether the filming activities will require a permit. Based upon the information provided, a permit may be required if necessary to:

– maintain public health and safety;

– protect environmental or scenic values;

– protect natural or cultural resources;

– allow for equitable allocation and use of facilities; or

– avoid conflict among visitor use activities.

Filming activities must not violate applicable laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, the Archeological Resources Protection Act or the Wilderness Act. All filming must comply with laws protecting the NPS’s intellectual property, such as laws and regulations governing the use of the NPS Arrowhead and images of NPS employees.

This interim guidance responds to the recent U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decision in Price v. Barr determining the permit and fee requirements applying to commercial filming under 54 USC 100905, 43 CFR Part 5, and 36 CFR Part 5.5 are unconstitutional. Previously, commercial filming in parks was prohibited without a permit. The NPS was also required to collect cost recovery and location fees for commercial filming activities. As needed, parks also issued permits for news gathering activities under 54 USC 100905 and non-commercial filming under 54 USC 100101 and 54 USC 100751(a). The interim guidance will eventually be replaced with regulations addressing filming activities that are consistent with the outcome of the litigation.

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