Central Cascades Wilderness Strategies Project

The Deschutes and Willamette National Forests have made a draft Decision for the Wilderness Strategies Project on visitor use management strategies for five wilderness areas in the central Cascades in order to reduce resource impacts caused by increasing recreation use.

The five wilderness areas are Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, Three Sisters, Waldo Lake, and Diamond Peak. Wilderness staff and managers are seeing substantial increases in the number of visitors to wilderness, which is impacting many of the more popular sites. There has been a substantial increase in visitation to the Central Cascade wilderness areas in the past five years.  Visitation to the entire Three Sisters Wilderness increased by over 180%, with some trailheads seeing increases of 300%-500% over the same time period. Current management is not successfully addressing the impacts associated with growing use. Impacts from visitors include degradation and loss of meadow and riparian vegetation, tree damage, presence of human and dog waste, widening and braiding of trails, and compaction of sites.

To access, the Final Environmental Assessment and Draft Decision Notice, please visit the project website here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50578


What is the proposed decision?

The draft decision selects a modified version of Alternative 4.

  • Day Use: Wilderness day use will be managed with a limited entry permit system at 30 of the 80 trailheads across the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, and Three Sisters Wilderness areas from the Friday before Memorial Day through September 30.  All trailheads within Waldo Lake and Diamond Peak wildernesses will still have free, self-issue, same-day permits available.

  • Overnight Use: Overnight wilderness use will be managed with limited entry permit system across the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, and Three sisters Wilderness areas (all trailheads) from the Friday before Memorial Day through September 30. All trailheads within Waldo Lake and Diamond Peak wildernesses will still have free, self-issue, same-day permits available.

  • Elevation fire ban:

    • Mount Jefferson, Mountain Washington and Three Sisters Wilderness areas: no fires at or above 5,700 feet.

    • Diamond Peak Wilderness: no fires at or above 6,000 feet.

    • Waldo Lake Wilderness: no fire elevation fire ban

For full details visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50578 for the draft Decision Notice. 

The decision includes the adoption of a robust monitoring and adaptive management plan, which will allow adjustments in the future to the visitor use management strategies (permits, fire bans) as needed based on monitoring results. Under the quotas determined for each trailhead, some very popular high-use areas will still accommodate a high level of recreation use.  In some of these areas, the benefit will come from shaving off the peaks of use to align better with parking capacity, reduce the effects of people spreading out, and move towards encounter standards.

The proposed decision to limit entry into three wilderness areas strikes a balance between providing access to current users, providing a quality recreation experience, and preserving the opportunity for future users to experience the wilderness character of these areas as intended by Congress.

What next?

The decision is subject to pre-decisional administrative review (also called the objection process).  The public has an opportunity to file an objection within 45 days of the legal notice of the proposed decision. Those who have previously submitted written comment during an official comment period are eligible to object to the project description. For a full description of who is eligible to object and how to object is included in the public letter on the project website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50578 

Following objection resolution, the Forest Supervisors will issue a final decision in February of 2019 and implementation is expected to begin in 2020.

How will the permit system work? Will it cost anything to get a permit?

In addition, there will be a public involvement effort on how the permit system will be implemented. After this decision has been signed, the Forest Service will seek authorization through the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) to charge a stewardship fee for wilderness permits. The permit fees collected would be retained by the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests and reinvested within the permit area, including in support of wilderness stewardship projects, visitor eduction and outreach, trail work and resource monitoring. The reservation system used to allocate trailhead permits would also include a fee for the reservation transaction. This will be a public process that is anticipated to begin in the spring of 2019.

For a summary presentation of the project, please click here.

Have questions about this project, see the full Frequently Asked Questions document

How are Wilderness areas different from the rest of the Forest?

Wilderness is a special, Congressional designation, separate from all other areas on any national forest. It is managed under principles found in the 1964 Wilderness Act. The Wilderness Act states its intent as, “In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”[Section 2 (a)].

The Wilderness Act, “established a National Wilderness Preservation System to be composed of federally owned areas designated by Congress as "wilderness areas", and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness.” [Section 2 (a)]

The Wilderness Act defined Wilderness “as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” It also is an area “has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.…”