Agency eyes limits on popular Oregon wilderness areas
BEND, Ore. (AP) — Federal officials are taking public comments on management strategies for five central Oregon wilderness areas that include possible restrictions on the number of visitors.
The U.S. Forest Service on Thursday released its draft Central Cascades Wilderness Strategies Project, the Bulletin reported .
Forest Service project leader Matt Peterson said the goal is to protect vulnerable parts of the wilderness areas amid a spike in visitors while also trying not to unduly limit use of the areas.
The agency is offering a number of alternatives but is backing one that would implement a wilderness-wide permit system for overnight users. It would also put in place a permit system for day use at 48 trailheads in three of the wilderness areas.
"I think we're probably going to see a great deal of feedback on this," said Beth Peer, interdisciplinary team leader for the Deschutes National Forest.
Meetings are planned in Sisters, Bend, Eugene and Salem to discuss options for the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Three Sisters, Diamond Peak and Waldo Lake wilderness areas.
The areas include about 530,000 acres (214,500 hectares) in the Deschutes and Willamette national forests that are protected under the federal Wilderness Act of 1964.
"It is a very special designation, and we're fortunate to have all of these scenic areas nearby," said Jean Nelson-Dean, spokeswoman for the Deschutes National Forest.
Those scenic areas draw visitors, which have increased with population growth and social media that tout popular trails. Officials say the number of visitors to the Sisters Wilderness Area increased 181 percent from 2011 to 2016. The Mount Washington Wilderness Area saw an increase of 119 percent.
The draft report said the increased use has led to more trash, soil compaction and erosion.
"The situation in the Central Cascades Wilderness Areas has reached a point where the Forest Service sees a need to take action," the report said.
Nelson-Dean said the plan supported by the Forest Service could encourage visitors to come on quieter days, or explore trails that see fewer visitors.
"We're just trying to spread out that use somewhat," Nelson-Dean said.
Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com