BEND, OR -- Deschutes and Willamette National Forest officials have released a draft proposal to deal with the impacts associated with more people visiting wilderness areas in the Central Cascades. Jean Nelson Dean, with the Forest Service, says the report has been in the works for a while, "For the past year, we’ve had a group of resource specialists from the Deschutes National Forest and the Willamette National Forest who’ve been looking at this issue around tremendous growth, particularly in the last five years, of visitation; specifically in the Three Sisters, the Mt. Jefferson, and to some degree the Mt. Washington." They're also looking at additional management of the Diamond Peak and Waldo Lake areas.
Nelson Dean tells KBND News, "In the last five years, we’ve seen 136% growth in people visiting the Three Sisters Wilderness. So, that’s over a doubling of visitors in a five-year period in an area that was already heavily visited." And, that high number of visitors leads to more damage, "We see trail impacts, a lot of garbage, human waste issues, people doing damage to trees, of course it effects wildlife. And, under the 1964 Wilderness Act, we’re required to protect these areas. They are different than just general forest; they are designated through Congress as Wilderness, and they are to be protected in certain specific ways." She adds, "They’re supposed to be a place where man visits but the effects of man do not remain."
The Environmental Assessment draft proposes five management options, ranging from maintaining the current self-permitting process to restricting the number of day-use and overnight permits issued to reduce the number of people in an area. Restrictions could be placed on the most used areas and trailheads, or on all.
Four public meetings will be held to gather input on the plan. Nelson Dean says she hopes people will come to one, listen to the information, then provide specific feedback. The first opportunity is Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Sisters High School. A second will take place Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Deschutes National Forest Supervisor's Office in Bend. Two others are scheduled for Salem and Eugene.
A final decision is expected later this year with implementation in 2019.