Wallowa-Whitman doesn't welcome visitors

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board August 03, 2011 08:26 pm

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest has a problem with its rules limiting how long campers can stay on the forest.

Two problems, actually.

The first involves the rules themselves.

The second has to do with making sure campers can easily find out what they can and can’t do.

Fortunately, both issues ought to be easy to fix.

The common standard on national forests and much other public land is that campers can stay no more than 14 consecutive nights at one place.

The Wallowa-Whitman enforces the 14-day limit both in developed campgrounds (ones such as Union Creek that have water and power hookups for RVs) and at so-called “dispersed” campsites, the ones lacking amenities.

It’s an appropriate limit.

Public land is supposed to belong to all of us, after all. Allowing one person or group to in effect claim a prime campsite for an entire summer betrays that notion.

The advantage of a national forest, of course, is its size.

This is especially true of the Wallowa-Whitman, which at 2.3 million acres is the largest national forest in the Northwest.

With such expanses of public land, the 14-day limit needn’t ruin campers’ visits to the Wallowa-Whitman.

They just need to pack up at least every two weeks and move to a new site.

Except they can’t. Not on the Wallowa-Whitman, anyway.

Our local forest requires campers, once they’ve reached the 14-day threshold, to wait at least 16 more days before spending another night on the Wallowa-Whitman.

This is neither necessary, nor fair.

Other national forests that have a 14-day limit allow campers to move to another campsite on the forest and there restart the 14-day period.

Forest officials have the flexibility to decide how far campers have to move. On the Umatilla National Forest, the Wallowa-Whitman’s neighbor, campers have to move at least five miles every 14 days.

This policy apparently works well enough on the Umatilla, even though it is almost one million acres smaller than the Wallowa-Whitman.

Dan Ermovick, the Wallowa-Whitman’s recreation manager, said last week that the five-mile requirement could be a feasible compromise for the forest.

We urge Forest Supervisor Monica Schwalbach to enact that change as soon as possible.

The Wallowa-Whitman’s overly restrictive camping rules discourage visitors and thwart the efforts of local officials to attract tourists.

The forest is so big, with such a variety of places to camp, that travelers, whether they stay in a plain nylon tent or a million-dollar RV, could conceivably spend a month or more sampling all the Wallowa-Whitman’s scenic wares.

But they can’t, given the current rules.

We doubt any visitors would feel especially welcome when they find out that their overnight stays on the Wallowa-Whitman are limited to 14 days out of every 30.

One final suggestion: Once the rules have been changed to allow campers to move elsewhere on the forest every 14 days, forest officials should revise the forest’s website so the camping requirements are prominently displayed.

The current website, curiously enough, doesn’t mention the 14-day limit in the section devoted to camping.