Editorial: New fees planned for the Lower Deschutes make sense, though you may not like them

Feb 19, 2021

Bend Bulletin

Editorial: New fees planned for the Lower Deschutes make sense, though you may not like them Bulletin Editorial Board

Boating on the Lower Deschutes River has plenty of fans. The fees charged for it? Not so much.

But the Bureau of Land Management’s rationale for new fees for boating and camping is simple. Its costs for upkeep are rising. Its revenues aren’t keeping up.

The BLM’s annual costs are $730,000-$760,0000. With the current fee structure, the BLM estimates it would bring in just shy of $500,000 in 2022. With the new fee proposal, it would bring in about $650,000.

Right now a boater pass costs $2 per person per night for most days plus another $6 transaction fee for recreation.gov. On Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day, the fee is $8 per person plus the $6 transaction fee. You can get them on recreation.gov.

The new fee: $5 per person per day every day plus the $6 transaction fee.

The switch to a $5 fee is not a brand new idea. The BLM had planned to move forward on implementing it last year. The pandemic brought that to a halt. Jeff Kitchens, the Deschutes field manager for the BLM, said the BLM did not believe it would be fair to do when so many people were struggling. He told the John Day-Snake Resource Advisory Council on Thursday that the BLM wanted to give people plenty of time to comment. That was a smart move.

There is also a proposed brand new fee for campers. Boater use levels on the Lower Deschutes have not changed dramatically. Hiking and biking has. Many of them use the river camping sites. Kitchens said 10 to 15 years ago you might see five to 10 visitors hike or bike through Segment 4, which is Macks Canyon to Heritage Landing. Now that many people hike or bike through in a few hours on some weekends.

The proposal is for a new $5 per person per night camping fee. People who have a boater pass or who are already paying a fee for a developed camping site would not have to pay.

Neither of these fee changes are final, yet. The BLM plans on opening them up to public comments beginning in March, Kitchens said. The target implementation would not be until 2022.

Caring for public lands costs money. As much as we don’t like to pay user fees to access them, fees charged to the users of the land make sense. You may also want to send a note to Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley and Rep. Cliff Bentz asking them to ensure the BLM has adequate funding, so it doesn’t need to rely on user fees.

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