Hikers Lose Big in Oregon Forest Service Plan

Forrest Fees Screw Working Class

Watson Falls Trail Umpqua National Forest Oregon

The U.S. Forest Service is finalizing plans that will make visiting Oregon’s most popular wilderness areas more costly, and wilderness groups are not particularly supportive. The plans have quotas intended to restrict forest usage in ways that are impractical for section and distance hikers, and even downright discriminatory toward working class individuals and families.

U.S. Forest Service spokespeople have said several things to the press, such as their intent is not to restrict the total number of users of forest lands, but instead to redistribute their visitation periods, while reducing impact on the forests. However, the Forest Service’s Draft Decision makes very clear that the intent is to reduce usage. And informally, U.S. Forest Service personnel have also been clear with media that they are seeking to increase the number of rangers, but have said nothing about using any dollars raised towards forest restoration along impacted trails.

Unfortunately, a lot of the media is ignoring all of this.  Most news outlets have concentrated only on a few data points that barely begin to tell the story. First, that an individual day-use permit for 19 of the most popular trailheads would cost only $3, plus a $1 processing fee, which sounds reasonable. Second, that a single overnight use permit is only $5 with a $6 processing fee, which again sounds somewhat reasonable.

But, extend these fees to a single parent of two teens, and the one day visit is now $10, and a three day backpacking trip would run the family $51. A retired couple on a fixed income would pay the same rates.

The costs for just one person aren’t inexpensive either: a three day backpacking trip would be $15, plus a $6 processing fee, which comes to $21. Individuals that do not have access to banking would be cut out completely because fees cannot be paid in cash. As no small aside, the processing fee goes to Booz Allen Hamilton, the firm operating recreation.gov under a contract with the U.S. Forest Service.

New Quotas are Tough, Discriminate Against Lower Earners
Also under the new system, visitors with less flexible or traditional work schedules, which are common with lower paid work, may have a problem getting a permit that works for them. In fact, getting a permit at all may be tough.

“For some of the most popular hikes, it will be tough to get a permit,” said Matt Peterson to the Statesman Journal in May. Petterson led the project for the Forest Service. “But if a person can’t get a permit for a weekend in August, they might end up going on a weekday, or in the fall, or even trying a different area. It will redistribute use in a lot of different ways.”

Many Wilderness Advocates Oppose the New Fees and Quotas
According to a commentary published by PCT Oregon, the changes will be especially difficult for Pacific Crest Trail section hikers.

“Unfortunately, the new permit and quota system disproportionately penalizes this type of PCT section-hiker,” says PCT Oregon. “[The new system] allows little to no flexibility to adjust your hike in cases of bad weather, trail issues, injuries, etc. If you’re delayed by a day or two to replace a busted water filter, or have to slow down due to a nasty blister, you’ll need to make up that time to meet your specified entry date or you’re [out of luck]. If you’re moving faster than anticipated and you arrive at the wilderness boundary early, before your entry date, too bad. Look around for somewhere to camp and wait for your specified date before proceeding. Once you enter the restricted area, you’ll then need to pass through and exit on or before your permit end date.”

The Statesman-Journal published a comprehensive look at the plan on October 8, and noted that the Portland-based Mazamas, a nonprofit mountaineering education organization, also object.

“We’d love them going back to the drawing board and coming up with a much less dramatic plan,” Sarah Bradham, acting executive director of the Mazamas, said in February. “They relied on limited data to justify something that will make it more difficult for people to experience their public lands.”

Act Now: Object by Email
You can send objections to  WillametteRecFeeComments@usda.gov or drop them at any Willamette or Deschutes national forest office. The deadline for objections is November 25.

Commentary by Andy Thompson