U.S. Forest Service staff made some remarkable statements on Friday about the wilderness plan for the Deschutes National Forest.
Somehow, the wilderness plan that will restrict access to publicly owned wilderness by limiting permits and a new fee will lead to “no net loss of access.”
That statement makes a mockery of logic and one of the chief concerns about the wilderness plan. It’s a false narrative, and the Forest Service should stop peddling that nonsense.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, hosted the meeting in his Bend office Friday, bringing together a small group of backcountry horsemen and hunters with Forest Service officials, including Deschutes National Forest Supervisor John Allen.
The wilderness plan was created to curb access to trailheads in the Deschutes and Willamette national forests to better protect the wilderness. Head up there today, and there are no such restraints on access beyond finding a place to park. But when the plan goes into effect — perhaps next year — the Forest Service will only issue a limited number of permits for some 19 trailheads for day use and 79 trailheads for overnight use. There will also be a new fee.
In the minds of Forest Service officials, the number of people heading into the wilderness could still be the same — “no net loss of access.” People would just not be able to go on weekends or whenever they want, because they could not get a permit.
Sorry, when people can’t go, that is a net loss of access.
The Deschutes officials announced that they have sent a draft plan of how the fee system will work to their regional office. We requested a copy. The officials explained they were “not trying to hide something” but didn’t want to release it until it was further along. Sorry again. When you don’t make public the draft plan to charge the public for access to public lands, that is hiding something.
Representatives from Back Country Horsemen of America were at Friday’s meeting and frustrated. Even now, without the plan in place, they can load up their horses, gear and friends and arrive at a wilderness trailhead only to find that the parking for horse trailers is taken up by hikers or backpackers — or there isn’t enough room in the parking lot to maneuver a trailer. Allen said he hoped that the new permit system would improve the situation. It might. Many local horsemen have given up on the Deschutes and may be much less inclined to support wilderness designations, according to Randy Rasmussen, director of public lands and recreation for the horsemen organization, and others at the meeting.
There was good news — as long as you don’t have a big family. Forest Service officials said they are trying to keep the new day permit fee to $5 per person. That is not finalized. The proposal is lower than what the Forest Service has mentioned in the past. But it will still be the federal government saying to people with big families: Your wilderness isn’t for people like you.