Forest Service closes in on plan to protect Oregon wilderness areas from overuse

After eight months and more than 500 comments from Oregonians, the U.S. Forest Service is closing in on a proposal that could protect central Oregon’s most scenic areas from overuse.

The Forest Service kicked off the project in the spring by holding public meetings to gauge interest in changing the way trails and campgrounds in five popular wilderness areas, spanning up to 530,000 acres in the Deschutes and Willamette national forests, are managed. Today, officials are optimistic a decision for the project — known as the Central Cascade Wilderness Strategies Project — will be released by summer.

According to a document released in May, visitation to the five most-used trails in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area increased by between 249 and 878 percent between 1991 and 2016. The increase has led to additional trash, tree damage and soil erosion in the wilderness areas.

At the end of May, the Forest Service released a proposal for the affected wilderness areas, which discussed creating a limited entry permit system for certain day-use areas and all overnight campers in wilderness areas, along with imposing restrictions on campfires above certain elevations.

The Forest Service will incorporate public comment to come up with specific alternatives, and draft an environmental assessment by next spring. A separate, parallel public planning process, focused on the logistics of a fee and permit structure in wilderness areas, will begin in the spring of 2018.

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