Outdoor activities, especially camping, have become increasingly popular throughout the pandemic.
“We have definitely seen an increase in recreation on forest lands,” Erin Vonderheit, the program specialist at the Payette National Forest said. “And I know that specifically some other forests especially closer to big population areas, the Sawtooth’s specifically has seen a lot of just an exponential increase.”
An increase in campers led to various problems with the environment.
With forests seeing an influx in campers, many coming are first-time campers or are unfamiliar with camping etiquette.
“Just an extraordinary amount of people out and about,” John Kidd, the district ranger at Lowman Ranger District said. “Probably our biggest issue is just our dispersed camping. And the impact we’re seeing both environmental and… I don’t know whether people don’t know the proper etiquette for camping, (but) what you do with your human waste, but that’s been our biggest issue.”
Kidd says the campgrounds are full near Lowman, and employees are overwhelmed. The area has dispersed campsites where a few people can pull over and camp. Now people are not following the site rules.
“Our dispersed areas are just growing incrementally,” he said. “People are pushing out a little further than the roads were originally. So you know where we had maybe 10 campsites, now there’s 25 or 30. And we got people just pulling off the road because they can’t find camping spots.”
The issue is not people using unauthorized camping spots. The problem is, more people will follow and create their own spots and campfire rings.
Camping etiquette and environmental problems are not happening exclusively in Lowman.
Some residents of the McCall area, like John Hendley from New Meadows, say that the damage done by this influx of campers is easy to see.
“We often find trash, toilet stuff not buried, smoldering fire pits,” he said.
The fires that are started and the trash people are leaving behind can have a long-lasting impact on the area. So rangers and other forest service workers have begun to workshop ideas and prevention of further damage.
“At some point in time we’re going to have to look at either developing more campgrounds if this trend continues or hardening some of the dispersed sites and limiting how many people can go in there,” Kidd said. “We got two areas in particular that are just getting beat to a pulp. We’re going to have to close them down and give it time to rehab. Do some seeding and try to keep people out.”
Unfortunately, he says prevention and signs have not worked, and the area has just gotten worse.
“Another thing is we put signs up,” he said. “Somebody wants to camp in an area and there’s a sign or they just pull a sign over the hill and pull in anyway and hope for the best. The increase in damage graffiti and all that kind of stuff is increasing too.”
For many, Labor Day signifies the start of the school year and the end of summer and camping season. This year, some rangers do not think camping season will end until snow hits the mountains.