If Oregon Wild gets its way, it wants to do more than stop a footbridge across the Deschutes River just south of Bend. It doesn’t want any more people on the public land along the river.

Oregon Wild, a conservation group, is behind House Bill 4029 in the Oregon Legislature. The bill would ban a pedestrian and bicycle bridge long-planned by the Bend Park & Recreation District.

Erik Fernandez, wilderness program manager for Oregon Wild, told Bulletin reporter Stephen Hamway that the bridge could lead to additional hiking and biking in the Deschutes National Forest. He says more people could harm wildlife and sensitive species such as the spotted frog.

If he’s right, is a bridge ban enough? Shouldn’t we ban people from the river trails? Or at least, there should be signs along the river: Warning! Your presence may harm wildlife. Please consider staying off your public lands.

That’s overkill. We all know there are risks involved in public policy choices. Almost everything has them. They need to be weighed carefully. A bridge ban isn’t about weighing them carefully.

There is an environmental risk every time somebody walks or bikes along the river. There are also environmental benefits from building the bridge. Fewer people may drive to access the forest trails because it will enable people from Bend’s east side to more easily access the trails without driving. Isn’t there an environmental benefit in discouraging driving?

Building support for careful stewardship of public lands is about education. It’s about basing policy on scientific evidence — not abstract, sinister hints about possible harm. Want to undermine public support of protecting public lands? Find ways to exclude the public.