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Other views: Wilderness permits a necessary evil

Salem Statesman Journal

Published on December 8, 2017 5:08PM


If it’s accessible, they will come.

And they will leave their trash and cause environmental damage.

We wish it wasn’t true, but it is. And now because too many are turning to the outdoors for its free recreational opportunities, the rest of us will have to pay to preserve these spots for future generations.

The U.S. Forest Service proposed new regulations in June that would require hikers and backpackers to purchase a permit before heading into five wilderness areas between Mount Jefferson and Diamond Peak.

Oregon’s outcry was fast and furious. More than 500 members of the public responded. But it’s really just a case of federal land managers in Oregon catching up with their peers in Washington, California, Arizona and elsewhere across the country.

The permitting system is the most equitable way to make increased use, and overuse, pay for itself. The areas being considered for an advance-purchase permit ranging from $6 to $12 are the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Three Sisters, Waldo Lake and Diamond Lake wilderness areas. The proposal includes limits for the number of day hikers and backpackers.

The permit system in local wilderness areas was deemed necessary because of explosive growth in the number of people hiking and backpacking in the Central Cascade areas around the Three Sisters and Mount Jefferson.

Unlike state or national parks, wilderness areas don’t have a lot of options for handling the hordes of people using the areas and the unfortunate damage that accompanies them.

Only two areas in Oregon currently require a permit to hike or backpack: the Obsidian Trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness and Pamelia Lake in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. The success of those permit programs instituted in the past, and their ability to stem overuse, influenced the current proposal.

Fewer people have used these areas, and our thoughts are that the folks getting the permits are more mindful of their impact on the environment. Some officials say the areas have been returned to their status two decades ago.

The state’s mostly open-trail policy has spoiled Oregonians and visitors alike. The Forest Service’s proposed new rules generated comments mostly against the proposal. Likely because most outdoor users cherish and respect the environment, they try to leave it as they find it, and they resent paying to use public lands.

Unfortunately, a growing number of users assume someone else will clean up after them. Wilderness rangers report coming across unburied human feces more than 1,000 times, some of it in campgrounds. Rangers have hauled more than 1,200 pounds of other human beings’ trash.

The government maintains spots for camping and campers leave their solid waste next to a fire pit?

Really, people?

As is often the case, a few abusers force the majority of users to pay for the consequences for their actions. But this time, growth in Bend and across the Mid-Valley has brought more people outdoors each year.

This growth has pushed wilderness areas to their breaking points. The forest service says visitors to the Three Sisters Wilderness jumped to 132,118 last year, up from only 46,999 in 2011.

It would be nice if everyone carried out their own trash (and their dogs’), left nothing except footprints and took care that the environment is left unspoiled for another generation to enjoy.

But not everyone lives by that credo.

A permit system works in others states; it will work in more spots in Oregon, too.



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