What others say: Popularity takes a toll on wilderness areas

  • By Medford (Oregon) Mail Tribune editorial
  • Monday, July 17, 2017 10:36am
  • Opinion

Oregonians are rightfully proud of the stunning scenic beauty of their state and are accustomed to striking out to experience it whenever they wish, backpacking into pristine wilderness areas at a moment’s notice.

But some of the more popular areas are not so pristine any longer, largely the result of overuse and too many people behaving thoughtlessly while they are there. The U.S. Forest Service has responded by proposing to start requiring paid permits to hike and backpack in specific wilderness areas.

For now, the program would apply to the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Three Sisters, Diamond Peak and Waldo Lake wilderness areas. None of those is in Southern Oregon, but they are popular destinations for local residents.

The Forest Service is compiling comments on the plan and will issue more details in time for a new comment period in February 2018. If adopted, the permit system likely would take effect in 2019.

The reaction from outdoor enthusiasts understandably has been negative. But look at things from the Forest Service’s point of view.

The number of visitors to the wilderness areas in question has soared. The Bend Bulletin reports that 46,999 people visited the Three Sisters Wilderness in 2011. Last year, 132,118 people did. And they left more than footprints.

Forest Service rangers hauled 1,200 pounds of garbage out of Three Sisters in 2015-16, and buried human waste 850 times — something the visitors who produced it couldn’t be bothered to do.

Better wilderness etiquette on the part of visitors would go a long way toward solving the problem, but people being people, we’re not holding our breath. And the Forest Service is proposing the paid permit system because it’s been proven to work.

Permit systems already are in place for specific locations that draw large numbers of visitors, including Obsidian Trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness and Pamelia Lake in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. Officials say the permit requirements successfully limited crowds and damage there.

Permits reportedly would range from $6 to $12. Recovering some modest administrative cost is acceptable, but fees should not be a money-maker for the Forest Service. If a permit is required for every person in a hiking party, the cost could become prohibitive.

If all visitors treated the wilderness as their own backyard, permit fees wouldn’t be necessary. Since they don’t, measures like this are an unfortunate necessity.

— The Medford Mail Tribune,

July 6