News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Winter conditions set in on forest

As winter weather conditions bring snow to the high country of the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests, forest managers encourage visitors to stay safe, be prepared, and to be aware of recreation regulations on the National Forests.

The mingling of sunny days with winter storms can create the perception that the national forest lands are fully accessible. However, forest managers know that during this time of transition it is easy to get stuck — especially as you head to higher and remote areas across Central Oregon.

Recently, the National Forests and area Search and Rescue units have seen an uptick in people getting stuck on forest roads. Many people requiring rescue are not prepared if things go wrong. Generally, when snow depth is three inches or greater, it is not safe to be on a forest road. Forest roads are not plowed or maintained during the winter. Several Forest Roads, particularly on north-facing slopes, now have areas that are icy or covered in unstable, early season snow that presents risks to drivers.

With the holiday season underway and many people traditionally planning on harvesting a Christmas tree on the national forests, forest managers are concerned, if precautions aren’t taken, more people may require assistance. (See related story.)

On another note, winter recreation is already taking off on the Deschutes National Forest. Forest managers expect to see record-breaking winter recreation similar to the summer months, given people’s desire to recreate outdoors during COVID-19 restrictions. (See related story.) People recreating outdoors should “know before they go” and be aware of winter regulations.

During the winter, road closures are in place in four areas of the forest to protect wildlife and their winter range. Additionally, in winter (November 1 to May 1), dogs, leashed or unleashed, are not allowed north of the Cascade Lakes Highway. The closure includes areas accessed by the Virginia-Meissner, Swampy Lakes, Vista Butte and Dutchman Sno-Parks (see map at Dogs are only allowed in the area, with a permit, for the purpose of skijoring or dog sledding.

The dog closure order applies to only 1 percent of the Deschutes National Forest. The closure is in place for a variety of reasons. Snowmobiles may not be able to stop when a dog runs through a snowmobile trail. In addition, Nordic skiers and snowshoers rely on the work of volunteers who groom winter trails. Dogs running through and playing in these winter trail areas can quickly destroy a winter trail and the work of volunteer groomers. On the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forest there are many locations where people can safely take their dogs.

Some tips for those enjoying winter recreation on their public lands:

• Plan your trip — check the weather, bring plenty of warm clothes, enough water for everyone for 3 days, emergency food, tire chains, shovel, flashlight, flares and/or something to start a fire with, camp saw or hatchet, and cold-weather sleeping bag or blankets.

• Make sure you have a full tank of gas when you leave and are prepared for changing conditions in the mountains and high desert. Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back.

• Keep vehicles on designated roads and be aware of changing weather and road conditions. Wet dirt roads can quickly turn to mud, making it possible to get stuck and causing damage to road, soil and water resources.

• In snowy conditions, if the snow is on the road three inches or greater, turn around – conditions are not likely to improve ahead.

• If there are puddles in the road, mud flipping off the tires, or you can see your ruts in the rearview mirror, turn around.

• Do not count on technology — GPS can steer drivers onto impassable roads and cellphone service can be inconsistent.

When enjoying a more remote primitive recreation experience in dispersed areas, it’s advised to turn around when road conditions begin to deteriorate and find a safe place to pull over and park to recreate. Pay attention to weather conditions, including increased winds and snowfall, to ensure plenty of time to safely head back home.


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