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New Deschutes County Camping Rules Approved

BEND, OR -- Deschutes County Commissioners Wednesday granted preliminary approval to limit camping on county-owned property. County Attorney Dave Doyle told the board the new law could take effect in three months. But there is a catch, “The prerequisite to all of this is that we have some alternate sites where people can be directed to. So, unless and until you have that, this code doesn't really mean a whole heck of a lot.” 

The county is trying to work with the state for approval of a managed camp outside the UGB. “I'm hoping that we will be able to hear from the governor this week and know that we can go ahead with another plan,” said Commissioner Patti Adair.

Commission Chair Tony DeBone said they will also talk with the Forest Service about the county enforcing the code on federally-owned land, “This code is going to be implemented for Deschutes County property, currently. And then, the ask is for federal government to get serious about two week stays.”

“We've given a lot of people the opportunity to take that pathway out. Then if there are people still unauthorized camping in places that we really don't want them to be, then a law enforcement approach makes sense,” Commissioner Phil Chang said, adding he wants the county to focus on providing facilities and services, but agrees with the need for the ordinance.

The idea for a camping code first came from Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson in early June. While the Commissioners aren’t considering his exact proposal, he says he’s pleased they’re moving forward, "We have to do something. What is going on now is not okay. It’s not okay for those folks to be living in that situation; it’s not humane, it’s not safe. And it’s not okay for the individuals that are living around these situations."

The code includes a ban on fires on county-owned lands within a mile of a UGB or private property lines. It’s a buffer zone Sheriff Nelson strongly supports, "Really, that is just to try and give a boundary of protection to all individuals in the area, and give enough time for fire response in certain situations."

Nelson tells KBND News, "As I look at it, it’s all about how you enforce the law, how you use discretion to enforce the law. If we can get this camping ordinance in place, what we’d like to do is: you go out and you start visiting with these individuals and offering resources. But then at the same time saying, ‘hey these are the rules and this is what the expectations are.’”He adds, "My hope would be you’d never have to use a consequence because you’re offering these resources to these individuals, so it’s basically a carrot and a stick-type approach."


(08/03/2023) This story has been updated to clarify the code only applies to county-owned public lands. 

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