To hear representatives of Oregon Wild tell it, the push to have more than 300,000 acres in the Ochoco National Forest declared a national recreation area is a forward-looking effort to save the forest from an overcrowded future.

A quick look at the group’s website, however, paints a different picture. “The primary threat to the Ochoco Mountains is the current Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) proposal,” you’ll read. Future use is mentioned, to be sure, but corralling terrible snowmobilers is a real issue.

Yet national forest management is supposed to enhance outdoor recreation activities, not prevent them, and a carefully designed OHV proposal from Ochoco National Forest personnel serves to clearly lay out where snowmobilers and others can go and, well, recreate, and where they cannot. The sport isn’t illegal, after all.

Meanwhile, a huge new national recreation area, including about 26,000 acres of new wilderness area, with new restrictions and, indeed, a whole new layer of management has little to offer but more bureaucracy and much less use.

That’s something one of Oregon’s most economically challenged counties simply does not need. Nor does the forestland itself. Rather, it needs what the Deschutes and other national forests need … well-financed, tender loving care aimed at improving forest health and reducing the danger of catastrophic wildfire.

The implication in a proposal like that from Oregon Wild is that forestland is not being well managed now, that without new, tighter rules and stricter limits on the land bad things may ensue. Yet the stricter limits themselves can serve not to improve forestland but to make effective management more difficult.

Moreover, stricter limits will not give the U.S. Forest Service what it really needs to improve the health of the Ochoco, and that’s adequate resources and fewer lawsuits aimed at stopping such things as thinning in overgrown forests. That combination would improve the health of the Ochoco far more than new wilderness and national recreation area designations.

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