In maybe only a few weeks or days, the Forest Service will release more details of its plans to restrict access to wilderness areas near Bend, beginning in 2020.
The plan isn’t only to dictate how many people can access public land each day. The Forest Service is going to start charging for access to public land. The public already has to pay for parking. This will increase costs further.
If that wasn’t bad enough, because of federal law, the public has been asked to judge the merits of restricting access without knowing how much a permit will cost. The federal government gives absurdism a whirl from time to time, but that really is a stunning way to set policy.
Some people may welcome the limits as a way of making the wilderness more wild and exclusive. But make no mistake: It’s like putting up a Keep Out sign for the wilderness aimed at those with little money.
Deschutes National Forest Supervisor John Allen isn’t blind to those issues. He knows that some people will be disappointed at not being able to get the permit they want to enjoy one of the high alpine wilderness trails. He said in an interview with Wilderness Podcast that his staff is working to expand and develop some high-elevation trails in some non-wilderness areas for free.
But do you know what he mentioned? One was a trail to the top of Mount Bachelor. You can already take a chairlift ride to the top. How is that special? He also mentioned the possibility of another trail to the top of Mount Tumalo. Prepare to be underwhelmed.
Whatever else the restricted entry to wilderness accomplishes, access seems certain to be less equitable. And if the public can’t go and experience wilderness, the public won’t be as supportive of efforts to preserve it.