Owner system

How a New Permit System Works in an Oregon National Forest

As the population of central Oregon grew, so did visitors to Deschutes National Forest. Authorities introduced a permit system last year to help maintain frequently visited areas.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Last year, the Pacific Northwest National Forests began rolling out a permit system to manage visitors and reduce overcrowding, including in the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests.

Lisa Machnik is responsible for recreation, heritage, partnerships and lands staff at Deschutes National Forest. She says the fee-for-permit system came after forestry officials saw a spike in use in recent years that began to strain resources.

“If we didn’t do anything to better manage usage, these areas would essentially change completely,” she said.

In areas like the Three Sisters Wilderness, authorities saw an average of 40,000 to 60,000 visitors per year in the 1990s. Two decades later, that number had jumped to around 140,000 visitors per year.

Increased numbers of visitors recreating in specific areas during weekends and other peak times have caused land management issues, according to Machnik.

“The whole experience that people were having and looking for when they went out into nature was going to be something that we weren’t going to be able to get over,” she said.

A day-use permit to visit Deschutes National Forest costs one dollar and can be obtained online.

Forest officials are trying to reduce the number of reservation no-shows by no longer allowing reservations more than 10 days before a visit.

Machnik says there are a number of reasons why people don’t use the permits they book, including outdoor conditions like smoke and heat, and the process visitors must follow to cancel their reservation.

“It’s pretty easy to get a permit, and it’s also easy for other things to come up,” she said.

Lisa Machnick joined Think Out Loud to discuss what the permit system has been like so far in the Deschutes National Forest. You can listen to the full conversation here: