Forest Service moves closer to wilderness area permit proposal

Drew Peterson, a wilderness ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, hikes along the Green Lakes Trail in 2015. (Bulletin file photo)

It’s a rare day when a new tax or fee is welcomed with open arms. For the Forest Service’s proposed fees to access wilderness in Central Oregon, today is not that day.

Many of the comments submitted about the plan are not happy. We confess we did not read them all. One group opposed to the fees helped motivate people to submit 10,000 form letters.

But regardless if it’s a form letter or something somebody put more effort into, the Forest Service should ensure it is sensitive to the concerns. If you have something to say about the plan, there is still time to comment.

The beautiful wilderness trails near Central Oregon can get swamped by hikers on a clear summer day. Get up there early or there may well not be any legal place to park. The Forest Service says it needs to limit the number of people using the trails and charge a fee to control use. Trash, erosion, and the sheer numbers of people are contributing to a decline in the wilderness experience.

There is a problem. It’s the Forest Service’s solution that people are not happy with. Basically, the Forest Service has been planning a permit system to limit daily use on 19 wilderness trailheads in the Central Cascades and overnight fees on 79 trailheads. It is now developing the associated fees.

The initial plan is that fee will be $4 total per person for the day-use fee, which includes $1 for processing. The overnight fee will be $5 per person per day and another $6 per group for processing. No fees are going to be required for children 12 and under, though everyone needs a permit. The new system would likely start this year.

Don’t like the idea of paying to access federal land? Neither do the commenters.

Don’t like how it will make it harder for low-income people to enjoy federal land? Neither do commenters.

Don’t like that people who live near the wilderness area don’t get any special access? Neither do commenters.

Don’t like that the new system will limit people’s flexibility to just get up in the morning and decide to head out to the wilderness? Neither do commenters.

And we should acknowledge that some commenters did appreciate Forest Service plan to preserve the wilderness.

One comment from an individual who works in search and rescue made an interesting point. He wrote that it’s important that search and rescue teams are able to have basic familiarity with the wilderness. It could help save lives. He asked if search and rescue workers could get some sort of special dispensation to have regular access.

Salem’s Statesman-Journal wrote a story that tried to capture many of the comments.

Comments on the fee can be mailed to the Willamette National Forest, ATTN: Recreation Fees, 3106 Pierce Parkway, Suite D, Springfield, OR, 97477. Comments can also be submitted by email to WillametteRecFeeComments@usda.gov or dropped off at any Willamette or Deschutes National Forest office during business hours. You have until Jan. 10.

(3) comments

IMHO

10,000 comments from everywhere but here...TX, CA, AL...in form letter from a poorly known "wildereness" advocacy group in Montana. Wow, perhaps these folks have trashed their own places and now decry the loss of the free ability to visit here and trash ours too. Sad that the pro Trump, pro corporate writers at the new Bulletin cannot even bother to really read or learn anything about this issue. Instead, they want to promote an idea that controlling the influx of the masses on our wilderness trails is not approved on here. They are wrong. And if you have the patience to skip the idiotic form letters, you find well-thought out support and ideas for these proposals. Most people do not want to hike up to South Sister with 1,000 other people, cruising by human feces and garbage on the sides of the trail. Most of us care about natural areas here. Its sad the tourism board and some business enterprises do not, and are only seeing this from the perspective of loss of revenue. Facts are, access to public lands is controlled all over the country. Every state and national park for example. Bend is unique as we are close to these wild areas. If people care about wildereness values and wildlife, then they will support this idea. Another fact is that it will be decades before a true limit of people is ever met, the number of allowable users has been set so high that even the most popular trails will not have any limitations for likely decades. So worry not, the fees are simply to pick up the garbage and clean toilets.

JamieD

Of course folks are not happy about this, it complicates things! However, many of us are already avoiding these places anyway, due to overcrowding and all of its associated challenges. I can't help but wonder how much opposition is purely on principle. The reality is that parking a horse trailer (or any vehicle) at the Green Lakes TH can be downright impossible and swimming with E. coli at No Name Lake is... disgusting. Painful or not, we need to make some changes.

Bendite

Easy to criticize, suggesting better alternatives is harder. Something had to be done. Congress doesn't fund the Forest Service to deal with this type of issue, so we get fees. Call Walden and tell him to fund recreation on public lands, now there's a solution!

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