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Commercial Filming and Photography on US National Forests in California

Commercial filming and photography may take place on Forest Service public lands (National Forests).  Like other commercial uses of National Forest System lands or resources, commercial filming and photography requires a Special Use Permit, which is issued by the District Ranger or Forest Supervisor of the relevant forest.

California's Regional Film Offices may be available to assist users in finding locations for filming or answering any preliminary questions associated with filming on National Forest System lands.  To find a Film Office within a corresponding forest region, please click here 

Commercial filming and photography requests should be submitted to the relevant National Forest office (attn: Special Uses Contact) at least 2 weeks in advance of anticipated filming date, if possible.  Contact information for each National Forest in California may be found here.  A permit request is provided below – this requests the minimum information that most National Forests will need to process a request for commercial photography or filming; more specific information may be available on a particular forest’s website

U.S. National Forests in California Commercial Filming and Photography Permit Request (pdf)

In order to expedite a filming request, please be aware of the following considerations:

  • Commercial filming is defined as use of motion picture, videotaping, sound-recording, or any other type of moving image or audio recording equipment on National Forest System lands that involves the advertisement of a product or service, the creation of a product for sale, and/or the use of actors, models, sets, or props, but not including activities associated with broadcasting breaking news. (FSH 2709.11 2008-2 (CH 40)).

  • Commercial photography is defined as the use of photographic equipment to capture still images on film, digital format, and other similar technologies found on National Forest System lands that: takes place at a location where members of the public are generally not allowed or where additional administrative costs are likely; or uses models, sets, or props that are not part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities (FSH 2709.11 2008-2 (CH 40)).

  • The Forest Service may require liability insurance and/or performance bonds to protect the public interest (FSH 2709.11 2008-2 (CH 40)).  Typically, one (1) million dollars in general liability may required.  Up to five (5) million may be required for activities that involve the use of a helicopter. 

  • Public law 106-206 allows the Forest Service to collect two types of fees for commercial filming or photography activities – a use fee and a “cost recovery” fee. 

    • The use fee is based upon: the number of days filming or photography activities take place; the size of the film/photography crew; and/or the amount and type of equipment present. 

    • The cost recovery fee covers the administrative and personnel costs associated with issuing the permit. 

  • Wilderness areas are congressionally-designated areas on federal lands that are subject to specific management restrictions; human activities are restricted to non-motorized recreation (such as backpacking, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, etc.), scientific research, and other non-invasive activities.  Wilderness Areas occur across federal agency jurisdictions; a special use permit may only be issued for commercial photography or filming on a US Forest Service Wilderness Area if the project is about wilderness and a non-wilderness alternative does not exist (see Key Messages of FSH 2701.11-2010-2 (CH 40) for further information).