Forest Service addresses spike in wilderness visitors

Seeks to balance access with need for preservation

U.S. Forest Service addresses...

BEND, Ore. - (correcting: Trash carried out, not buried)

We all love the natural beauty of the Beaver State, but are we giving it the proverbial "hug of death?"

They're more popular than ever before, and the U.S. Forest Service recognizes the need for planning in order to keep them from losing the special nature that attracts so many.

The Forest Service must balance encouraging visitors to come and enjoy their wilderness areas with protecting them from overuse. The agency held a meeting in Bend Friday tonight to discuss if both are possible.

"We like to frame it up in terms of what our responsibilities are for managing these areas, and that's protecting and preserving wilderness character, so that people can experience wilderness and have a chance to become stewards," Recreation Staff Officer Lisa Machnik said. "But also so that we can maintain and preserve that experience for future generations."

The meeting focused specifically on the wilderness areas on the Deschutes and Willamette national forests. It started with a presentation, during which the speaker quoted the Federal Wilderness Act of 1964:

"These shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such a manner as we will leave them unimpaired for future uses as wilderness."

Those wilderness areas cover about a tenth of the total area of the Deschutes and Willamette forests -- and they've seen a spike in visits over the last few years.

The larger crowds have damaged trails and left behind trash. The Forest Service took down over 750 campfire rings and carried out about 1,200 pounds of trash in Central Oregon wilderness areas in just the last year alone.

Some of the solutions to the problem they discussed included recreation fees, limited-entry permit systems and campfire restrictions.

There will be another open house Saturday morning from 9-11 a.m. at the same location -- the Deschutes National Forest supervisor's offices on Deschutes Market Road.

The Forest Service wants to have a plan for the wilderness areas in place by April of next year.

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