BEND, Ore. - The Deschutes and Willamette national forests are proposing new visitor management strategies – including limited-entry permit systems -- to tackle the increasing problems of trash and damage left behind by a rising visitor count in the Central Oregon Cascades’ five wilderness areas.
The two forests in documents posted on Wednesday proposed new visitor use management strategies for the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Three Sisters, Waldo Lake and Diamond Peak wilderness areas.
Deschutes National Forest Supervisor John Allen and Willamette National Forest Supervisor Tracy Beck said in a joint letter that the forests have begun a public comment period on the proposed actions, open until July 3. That public input could lead to alternatives or ways to mitigate the impact of proposed actions. There will then be an environmental assessment and another public opportunity to comment.
“With large increases in visitation, there is a proportional increase in the number of people leaving behind trash, abandoned gear, human waste, toilet paper and dog waste,” the Forest Service agencies state in their proposed action document.
“Some visitors damage trees for firewood, build structures for shelter, introduce invasive plants and leave other evidence of their visit,” they wrote. “These issues affect the natural quality of wilderness character. High levels of use also minimize opportunities for solitude and unconfined recreation,” as the Wilderness Act declares as its goals.
They also said the five wilderness areas are being considered jointly in such proposed changes “to ensure consistency in approach, and to be able to consider the potential for visitor displacement from high-use areas to lower-use areas.”
The forests are proposing “to establish a wilderness-wide overnight limited entry permit system” that could at each trailhead accommodate fewer, the same or “some expansion” in the number of visitors, depending on current use levels.
The agencies also propose a day use limited entry permit system in areas where large numbers of day users are causing increasing impacts.
The areas that would initially have such limits include trailheads along highways 42 and 242 in the Three Sisters Wilderness and Highway 22 in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness.
“Self-issue permits would be required at other trailheads, without limit,” in a system subject to modification over time.
“The daily number of overnight and day use permits available for each trailhead would be determined using established protocols that evaluate the natural and social capacity of each area,” the document states, including “looking at existing campsite impacts, miles of trails, number and type of destinations in an area, and resiliency of the surrounding natural systems.”
“A reservation system would be in place, so the public can plan trips in advance, with (a) designated amount retained for day-of, walk-up permits,” it continues. “A subset of permits for Devil’s Lake Trailhead would be issued specifically for people climbing South Sister,” where the large number of climbers has caused environmental issues.
As for campfire and camping rules, the forests are proposing to end the existing system of banning campfires a certain distance from lakes or other setbacks, by instead “restricting campfires above a certain elevation, across all wilderness areas … based on vegetation sustainability and the range of western white pine (which is a candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act.”
Camping setbacks and designated campsites won’t be part of the new strategy, and existing designated site systems would be removed, officials said. Instead, “the focus will be on raising awareness of the public before they enter the wilderness about how to select the most appropriate campsite, using ‘leave no trace’ principles.”
The Forest Service also said it would consider removing regulations when through monitoring “there is evidence that areas are recovering and impacts are being reduced.” On the other hand, more management actions could be taken “if areas approach a condition that is unacceptable,” such as “further proliferation of campsites in sensitive areas.”
Documents on the proposal can be found at: http://data.ecosystem-management.org/nepaweb/nepa_project_exp.php?project=50578
It's also the topic of our new KTVZ.COM Poll: Do you think there should be limits on the number of visitors to our wilderness areas? Find it halfway down the right side of our home page.