BEND, Ore. - (Update: Adding video, comments from Forest Service spokeswoman)
The Deschutes and Willamette national forests said Tuesday they are seeking public input on proposed $3 day-use and $5 overnight special recreation permit fees as part of the new summer limited entry system for day and overnight use in three Central Cascades wilderness areas.
The limited entry system will go into effect beginning next summer. So will the permit fees, if approved, U.S. Forest Service officials said.
“We are looking for the public’s input on the next steps for managing visitor use in these popular wilderness areas, so we can reduce resource damage and maintain access to these areas for current and future generations,” said Deschutes Forest Supervisor Holly Jewkes.
NewsChannel 21 spoke with forest spokesman Jean Nelson-Dean to ask whether people would be able to receive a refund if they pay the fee in advance and then decide to cancel their outdoor trip.
“That’s actually some of the input we’re trying to get during this 45-day comment period, on the special recreation permit fee," Nelson-Dean said. "So what would that cancellation policy look like?"
Nelson-Dean also said the goal is not hinder those who want spur-of-the-moment visits, or those who prefer to plan ahead.
"We are planning on having permits both that are like spontaneous the day of, and ones that you can reserve,” she said.
The Central Cascades Wildernesses include the Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, Three Sisters, Waldo Lake and Diamond Peak wildernesses. Increased recreational use is degrading the resources, wilderness character and recreation experience in these areas, officials said.
The Willamette and Deschutes national forests began an environmental analysis in January 2017 to address these impacts. Following this analysis and public input, the forests decided this past spring to apply a limited entry system, with the final decision signed on May 10 of this year.
The forests are now seeking authorization through the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act to charge a special recreation permit fee as a part of the limited entry system within the three wildernesses.
The Forest Service has proposed the following structure for the special use permit fee:
·No special use permit fees for youth 12 and under, though each person requires a limited entry reservation regardless of age.
·Day-use permit fee $3.00 per person (needed at 19 trailheads, no fee at 60 trailheads)
·Overnight permit fee $5.00 per person, per night (needed at 79 trailheads)
The special recreation permit fee will be required from the Friday before Memorial Day to the last Friday in September in the Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington and Three Sisters wilderness areas. The special recreation permits would be available through the Recreation.gov website.
Limited entry reservations would include the special recreation permit fee, plus the processing fees charged by Recreation.gov. The processing fees are currently $1 per person for day use and $6 per overnight group.
Public input will inform the Forest Service’s final proposal for the special recreation permit fee structure, how the fees should be invested, and any concerns or suggestions related to the special recreation permit fee. The public comment period on the proposal begins Wednesday and end on Nov. 25.
“During the past two years, as we analyzed the management strategies needed to maintain these wilderness areas, the public shared many concerns and ideas about the fees associated with a limited entry system,” said Tracy Beck, Willamette National Forest supervisor. “Now we seek the public’s engagement on the specifics of the fee structure.”
The forests said they "will review and consider all comments and use them to inform how the proposal may be adjusted."
The final proposal will be presented to two Resource Advisory Committees, one on the east side of the Cascades and one on the west side. The committees will give the Forest Service recommendations on the fee structure. The Regional Forester for the Pacific Northwest, Region 6, will make the final decision.
Under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, 80 to 95 percent of the proposed special recreation permit fees would be invested in wilderness management activities, trail maintenance, visitor education and expanding work with volunteers and partners within the three wildernesses.
Comments on the special recreation permit fee may 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.