Over the years I have generally supported the efforts of the U.S. Forest Service. That has not been without difficulty considering certain policies which have surfaced over many vastly-different presidential administrations. I won’t go into details about which ones because that would require depth beyond my intentions for this post.
I have camped at several national forests in recent years with the most recent in the Angelina National Forest in East Texas. A particular spot I like is Boykin Springs Recreation Area, located off State Highway 63, between Zavalla and Jasper. Most of the pertinent information on the park is contained on the linked site above. Mainly, I would stress to anyone interested that it is a place that should best be visited in off seasons — fall and winter if camping is your bag — due to the limited spaces. Of course, spring and even summer in East Texas hold some majestic scenery, if you can keep cool during the hot summers.
This isn’t a travelogue though. I wanted to link to this article in Firehouse.com, the Website for what is considered one if not the most thorough firefighting publications in existence. I began reading it when I first became a firefighter more than 35 years ago. It was founded and edited then by retired New York City firefighter, Dennis Smith (not related to anyone I know), who also wrote several compelling books including his most famous, “Report From Engine Co. 82.” The article I link is reprinted from the Mail Tribune newspaper in Medford, Ore. I thought it important enough that I mention both publications.
The gist of the story is that the Forest Service has a proposed rule that would assign permits and charge fees of up to $1,500 to journalists who cover “non-breaking” news stories at national forests. This is as opposed to “breaking news” such as a big wildfire. An example from the article is forest management policies. A forest service official said the rule was meant to preserve the “untamed character of wilderness areas.”
I think the rule is the proverbial “slippery slope.”
This serves as a shining example of how government agencies can trample upon the First Amendment rights by restricting a free press. I don’t know specifically about the Forest Service but I know of other agencies that restrict the American people from knowledge about their government by charging excessive fees for public information or even copies.
The linked story says it as good or better as I how misguided a proposal the rule could be if enacted. It is already difficult enough for some journalists, such as myself sometimes, who freelance. We may or may not have credentials from a newspaper or other publication and thus encounter difficulty in access to news and areas where a story may happen.
Today was the first I heard of the proposed rule and it concerns me just how sheltered my fellow citizens are from rules that endanger our Constitutional freedoms. I found other news stories today after searching that told of fears citizens had that the rule would prohibit innocent picture taking. The Forest Service clarified the information about the rule to say it “only” applied to commercial media.
One always seems to ask what else are they, the government, hiding. The Forest Service is probably well-intentioned. I also support keeping our wilderness areas wild. But it should not be done at the cost of our freedom.