Hiking season starts early (copy)

Water surges along the Green Lakes Trail.

The new wilderness permit fees for trails in the Deschutes and Willamette national forests are going to cost less than anyone expected.

That’s a better deal.

Instead of being a total of $4 for a day-use permit or $11 for an overnight use permit, the charge will be $1 for a day-use permit or $6 for an overnight.

Some people are not going to be pleased, regardless. They don’t like the new wilderness permit requirement and won’t be satisfied even with a reduction in proposed fees. It’s public land, they argue. Why should the public pay to access their land?

We agree — to a point. It does cost money to maintain and supervise a wilderness, though. Anyone who has hiked to the Green Lakes or on any of the popular trails in the wilderness has seen the erosion, the litter and sometimes even human waste.

The Forest Service decided it needed to limit access to protect the wilderness and reduce those problems. Should it have put more effort into enforcement or educating the public? Perhaps. After all, it doesn’t matter how much the Forest Service limits access if the people who access the land don’t treat it with respect.

The Forest Service decided to limit access through permits. Then — because of a strange part of federal law — it began a separate determination of what the accompanying fees should be. We heard possible numbers from Forest Service representatives. It was never going to be as low as it is going to be now. The Forest Service will add nothing on top of what it is contractually obligated to charge with the private contractor which runs recreation.gov — $1 for day use and $6 for overnight. If the public knew that was a possibility, they could have advocated for it.

The question is: Will the Forest Service start up a new conversation about adding more fees? Is this just a delay?

It sounds like it could be, according to an email from Lisa Machnik of the Deschutes National Forest. “As you know, we cannot implement a fee without the required 6 month notice period officially published in the Federal Register,” she wrote in an email obtained by the Statesman Journal. “Thus, at this point in early February, it is not realistic for the Forests to implement a fee this year.”

But when we asked Jean Nelson-Dean, the public affairs officer for Deschutes National Forest, about that she wrote: “I want to emphasize that we are not going forward with a fee at all following many internal discussions. This is not a delay.”

Presumably permit fees could cost more at some point in the future. But for now, at least, they are going to cost less than people expected. And that is welcome.

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