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USFS drops proposed C.O. wilderness permit fees

wilderness area generic
KTVZ file

(Update: USFS says it's no longer planning special permit fee)

But says limited-entry permit system still starts this summer

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Citing a too-tight timeline, a plan to impose a special fee as part of a limited entry system for some heavily used wilderness areas in the Oregon Cascades has been delayed until next year, a Forest Service official said. The limited entry system is still set to go into effect this summer, and will include a $1 or $6 "processing cost," the agency said.

The change in plans was detailed in an email sent Wednesday to the Wilderness Subcommittee of the John Day-Snake Resource Advisory Committee, one of several regional citizen advisory panels to the Forest Service and one of two involved in the process that were asked for their for recommendations.

Lisa Machnik, a recreation, heritage, lands and partnerships staff officer on the Deschutes National Forest, thanked the subcommittee for its consideration of the Cascade Crest Wilderness Strategies fee proposal, and for taking public comment.

“We heard the questions and comments raised by the RAC subcommittee and we recognize that the timeline of our request has been a challenge,” Machnik wrote.

 “As you know, we cannot implement a fee without the required six-month notice period officially published in the Federal Register,” she wrote. “Thus, at this point in early February, it is not realistic for the forests to implement a fee this year.

“For 2020, the forests will move ahead with the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) decision to implement a limited entry permit system through the system.  This will allow us to continue our work to manage use in these wilderness areas.”

“The change in timeline will allow us all more time to continue our conversations and carefully consider all the feedback we have received from the RACs and the public,” Machnik added.

“We look forward to continuing this work together,” she told the subcommittee.

While the letter to the council made it appear a fee could be imposed after this year, Deschutes National Forest Public Affairs Officer Jean Nelson-Dean said Thursday it’s off the table, at least for now.

“We do still have the option at some point in the future to consider fees,” Nelson-Dean told NewsChannel 21. 

“We really had to look at where we focused our energy,” she said. “Our goal of moving forward with our best effort to implement limited entry on the ground seemed to make the most sense.

“We did want to have additional funding to do more work, but in the end, we decided this is all new, and we have a lot to learn before we make any decision on fees. Any fees in the future would be purely hypothetical at this point.”

The Forest Service issued a news release Thursday about the change in plans:

"Beginning this May, the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests will implement the limited entry permit system for day and overnight use in the Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, and Three Sisters wildernesses. Permits will be available on beginning April 7, 2020.

"The two forests had a public comment period on an associated special recreation permit fee that began in October 9,2019 and ended January 10, 2020. A wide range of public comment was received on the special recreation permit fee. The forests have decided at this time, though the limited entry system will be implemented, no special recreation permit fee will be charged.

"A processing cost of $1.00 per day use permit and $6.00 per overnight permit will be charged through This processing charge is an administrative cost and does not return to the two national forests for management.

“We appreciate the broad and diverse public input we received on the Special Recreation Permit fee since the fee was proposed last October. As we implement the limited entry system this year, we will continue to consider the valuable public input received during the environmental analysis and fee proposal processes and adapt, as needed, to best manage these wilderness resources for current and future generations,” said Holly Jewkes, forest supervisor for the Deschutes National Forest.

For general information about the limited entry system, the public can go to the following link:

Last November, the Deschutes and Willamette forests had extended the public comment period until Jan. 10 for the special recreation permit fee, but said the limited entry system will go into effect starting this summer in the Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington and Three Sisters wilderness areas.

The proposed day-use fee was $3 a person, which was to be required at 19 of the areas' 79 trailheads, and a $5-per-person overnight fee, required at all 79 trailheads.

The reservation permit-processing fees charged by will be $1 per person for day use and $6 for overnight groups.

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Barney Lerten

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