Backcountry camping is temporarily banned on land managed by the Oregon Department of Forestry, but it's not because of the coronavirus pandemic: The closures are the result of people turning sites into miniature trash dumps.
Starting Monday, May 11, the agency halted all "dispersed camping"—meaning, overnight stays in wooded areas that aren't designated campsites—including the Clatsop, Tillamook and Santiam state forests.
Since those lands do not have restrooms, garbage disposal or other services, everyone who uses them is expected to pack out what they pack in for the health and safety of the forest and the wildlife that live there—though it seems people have been ignoring that principle lately.
ODF employees have been overwhelmed with debris people have left behind, along with an accumulation of human waste. The situation has now become dangerous, particularly since there aren't enough resources during the COVID-19 outbreak to manage the sanitation issues.
"We have strived to continue to allow as much access to Oregon's state forests as possible while ensuring everyone's safety, including our staff," State Forester Peter Daugherty said in a statement on the ODF website. "Unfortunately, the current conditions are hazardous to the public and our employees. We appreciate the public's understanding and look forward to reopening these areas as soon as we can safely do so."
The closure further limits outdoor recreation opportunities, since many state parks remain off limits to the public in accordance with Gov. Kate Brown's stay-at-home order.
ODF's ban is expected to last several weeks while additional people are brought on for the cleanup efforts needed to make the forests safe for public use again. No exact reopening date has been set, though forest roads and trails remain accessible in the meantime.
Anyone who visits the state forests at any time should be prepared to haul away any garbage they may generate during the visit—and the 6 feet of separation guideline still applies in the backcountry.
It's also time to get acquainted with the cat-hole method for disposing human waste. Restrooms are closed, so if you've gotta go, bury it at least 6 inches below ground and away from trails, parking lots and bodies of water.