News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Dispersed camping raises concerns

Campgrounds remained closed over Memorial Day weekend, due to COVID-19 restrictions. But that didn’t mean campers stayed home — they simply came to Sisters and set up camp dispersed out across the national forest.

And that raised concerns from local residents about trash left in the woods, trees cut down, and campfires left smoldering.

Dispersed camping is allowed in the forest, and it occurs every year. But Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid acknowledged that the ongoing closure of campgrounds made for more of the phenomenon, particularly in the popular Metolius Basin.

Reid said that campgrounds are starting to come online. Perry South and Monte Campground in the Metolius Basin opened May 29. As more campgrounds open, dispersed camping is expected to fall off.

Reid also said that his staff is trying to balance the need to minimize contact with the public to meet COVID-19 prevention protocols while still maintaining a presence in the forest. They are, however, on full alert for fires.

“We are staffed seven days (a week) with our fire resources and we are patrolling for campfires,” he told The Nugget. “We found one (smoldering) last week.”

There is no current restriction on campfires, but that will likely change soon as fire season gets into full swing.

“We’re evaluating that on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis,” Reid said.

Reid noted that cutting standing dead trees is actually allowed, except for sensitive areas like riparian zones, as long as the trees are smaller then 24 inches in diameter and are within 150 feet of a road.

“Cutting green trees is prohibited,” he said. “It always is.”

Reid acknowledged locals’ concern about sanitation with hordes of campers disperse through the woods.

“We do patrol for sanitary conditions and we can cite for that,” Reid said.

Campers are expected to dump effluent outside the forest at approved dumpsites.

The Forest Service is also enforcing its 14-day stay limit for dispersed camping.

As state parks and national forest campgrounds reopen, campers are expected to return to those spots, although some citizens have expressed concerns that dispersed camping might become a habit. In all cases, campers are asked to behave responsibly, leave their site clean and their fires dead out, and treat the forest and the community around it with respect.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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