Other Views: Forest permit plans require input from public

Other Views: Forest permit plans require input from public

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Beazell's Bird Loop (copy)

Here are excerpts from editorials from other Oregon newspapers:

The Eugene Register-Guard, Oct. 23, on a proposed national forest permit and fee system:

Anyone who enjoys hiking or camping in Oregon's national forests should take a minute to comment on a proposed permit and fee system that will make it harder to spontaneously decide to spend a sunny Saturday in the woods. It's far from clear that the folks who will run the program have figured out how to make it the seamless experience it needs to be.

Under the proposal, some of the most popular trailheads in the state will have caps on use and fees for those lucky enough to get a permit. The permit system will apply to trailheads in the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests. Specifically, they'll hit the Central Cascades wilderness areas, including Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Three Sisters, Waldo Lake and Diamond Peak.

The U.S. Forest Service proposes charging $3 a person for day-use permits on 19 trailheads and $5 per person a night on all 79 trailheads in the specified areas. There also would be processing fees on top of that.

Make no mistake, limiting access to the trails is necessary. They have become victims of their own popularity. As more people hike or camp, they cause more harm to these irreplaceable natural spaces. Most people don't willfully abuse the forests, but a few bad actors leave behind human and animal waste and cause other damage. Even those with the purest "leave no trace" intentions are not harmless. Thousands of steps on a trail wear it down, widening the trail and creating opportunities for erosion.

Most of the money that the fee program raises — 80% to 90% of it — will go into forest maintenance and restoration. Think of it as a user fee. Sure, it would be great if the federal government funded national forests and other federal lands well enough to fully preserve them and keep them accessible, but that hasn't happened in decades. User fees are common.

But the permits and fees need to work as seamlessly as possible. Too many questions remain about how the Forest Service will implement the program.

How far in advance will permits go on sale? How will officials ensure equitable access to them? Will there need to be a lottery for the most popular weekend days? How many passes will be held for people to be able to hike spontaneously?

We suspect more people decide to hike or camp for a couple of nights spontaneously when the weather is nice than plan it months in advance.

It's important, too, to think about these questions broadly. Hiking and camping are for more than just Oregonians. The Forest Service must develop effective communication strategies to get the word out to visitors from other states. If tourists become disgruntled because they didn't know they wouldn't be able to hike to the top of South Sister, the state's reputation as a great destination could take a hit.

The Forest Service has smart people developing this plan, but they need to hear from users if they're to find a management strategy that will work. Check out all the details online and share your thoughts before the comment period closes Nov. 25.

Affordable housing tax

The Bend Bulletin, Oct. 22, on discussions about a potential new housing tax:

To attack Bend's housing problems, the city is looking at changing city rules and regulations, using grants and loans and — perhaps — creating a new tax.

It would be a construction excise tax, a tax on building permits.

Let's be clear. There are only discussions about such a tax at this point. No tax has been approved. No rate is set. It's not even clear who would have to pay. The tax did come up, though, in a city subcommittee discussion on Monday.

If you want to have an impact on the debate over such a tax, the time is now — not the night it comes before the Bend City Council for a vote.

Bend already has a similar tax for affordable housing. Since 2006, the city has collected 0.33% of the total valuation on all building permits submitted to the city. That has collected more than $6.4 million. The city uses that money primarily to fund loans to help make affordable housing projects happen.

The new fee would be supplemental to that one — potentially on the building permit valuation of commercial and industrial developments. One rate city staff has mentioned is 0.67%. That might raise over $1 million a year, according to previous city projections.

The city is conducting a survey of the development community right now to find out why multifamily housing projects don't get done. There are all sorts of obstacles that get in the way. For instance, providing enough parking can be an issue for apartments. City and park system development fees can raise the per unit cost of housing by thousands. And a new apartment complex can trigger enough expected traffic to require an improvement at a nearby intersection. That can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of a new complex.

Money is one way to help make those problems go away. The new tax could be used to create a pool. Developers could apply for the money.  and councilors could make awards based on the relative merits of the various projects.

The city should do all it can to identify the codes and regulations it can change or get rid of so more housing can be built before it considers creating a new tax. And it already is making an impressive effort to do so. Should it add a new tax? Tell councilors what you think. The quickest way to reach them is probably to send an email to council@bendoregon.gov.


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