The BLM is requiring the removal of geocaches on designated wildernesses including the Oregon Badlands

by: RON HALVORSON - Geocacher Lyle Andrews signs the log after retrieving a geocache from its hiding spot near Ochoco Reservoir.

An April 18 press release by the Prineville District of the Bureau of Land Management announced the closure of some public lands to geocaching.

In cooperation with the geocaching community, approximately 84 geocaches will be removed from specially-designated areas such as wilderness, wilderness study areas (WSAs), research natural areas (RNAs), and areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs).

Geocaching is often described as a “high-tech treasure hunt.” Geocachers use GPS-enabled devices to navigate to a specific location where another “cacher” has hidden a geocache, consisting of a container, logbook, and often – depending on the size – a treasure trove of trinkets for exchange.

Some geocaches are “virtual,” where the objective is to simply find an existing feature on the landscape. According to the website – where both the coordinates for geocaches are posted and geocachers record their finds – there are more than 2.3 million active geocaches worldwide sought by more than 6 million geocachers. Presently, 162 geocaches are located within 10 miles of Prineville.

Areas affected by the closure in Crook County include the 510-acre Powell Butte RNA, and seasonal closures for wildlife on a segment of a Millican Valley off-highway-vehicle trail, and part of the Millican Plateau. Most controversy, though, relates to the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, a 29,301-acre area east of Bend and partially located in Crook County.

“Although not a surprise, the BLM’s recent announcement was disappointing,” says Nils Eddy, a long-time geocacher who owns geocaches in the wilderness. “Removing geocaches will not make the Badlands any more of a wilderness, but it will remove one of the best geocaching locales and several of the best geocaches in Oregon.”

Tom Marshall, a Prineville geocacher who says he lives by the motto, “cache in, trash out,” and calls geocaching “an addiction,” doesn’t see the logic to the Badlands decision, and takes exception to a belief by some that geocaching, by concentrating use in specific areas, causes environmental degradation.

“They’re taking all these geocaches off the area so that we don’t go in there and make paths to the geocaches, and now we’re destroying the environment?” he questions. “Yet 22 are going to get left out there – they’re called virtual caches. Well, you still have coordinates you have to go to. There’s going to be paths to those coordinates. Why don’t they take those as well?”

Geocachers with the “handle” Bad Dogs, argue that the presence of geocaches in the Badlands is a good thing for the wilderness, encouraging extra sets of eyes to help monitor public use.

“Actually having caches in the Badlands may help,” they say. “With known hikers all over it may keep troublemakers away.”

BLM spokesperson Lisa Clark explains that while environmental concern may be the reason for removing or restricting geocaches from some areas, that is not the reason for their removal from the Badlands – a point she hopes to drive home with the public.

“The one thing I’d like to stress is something that hasn’t been necessarily captured by the articles that have come out so far,” she says, “is that the reason that geocaches are being prohibited from wilderness areas has nothing to do with foot traffic. It’s strictly a national policy about leaving a man-made object in the wilderness for more than 24 hours. That’s why we’re still allowing virtual geocaches, where people are given directions to a unique feature, a viewpoint, a cool, twisty tree, a rock, or something to see when they get there.”

Clark says the closure of RNAs and sensitive wildlife habitat has been in place, but not implemented, since 2005, when the decision for the Upper Deschutes Resource Management Plan (UDRMP) was signed. The wilderness guidance, though, is recent.

“In 2012, national wilderness policy came out establishing that prohibition on man-made objects related to geocaching and other activities in wilderness areas. So we’re just bringing our district in line with that national policy now, and bringing ourselves in line with decisions in the UDRMP.”

For now, she says, geocaching is still allowed in WSAs, but that could change on a case-by-case basis.

“We do have options if we determine that the presence of that geocache is detracting from its ability to become wilderness.”

Geocachers will be given about two months to remove their caches from the Badlands and RNAs, Clark says, and then the BLM will look and see what still remains. For caches in areas with a seasonal closure, the BLM will work with the cache owners to disable them (on the website) during that time, or the owner could physically remove them.

“Just wait until the seasonal closure is lifted.”

SmokeySez – a Prineville geocacher who asks that her true name be withheld – says she generally supports the BLM’s decision, even though she questions the Badlands’ wilderness designation to begin with.

“I would be very upset if suddenly we were no longer able to hide caches on public lands anywhere,” she says, “but I'm OK with the restriction of wilderness areas. There are other areas that are restricted to geocaching, and most cachers are aware of that and respect that.”

An increase in restrictions concerns Bad Dogs.

“I hope geocaching can still be active here in Bend. With all the rules I think people get discouraged.”

Clark notes that in the worst-case, long-term scenario, 100,000 acres of local BLM-managed land could eventually become unavailable to geocaching – a total that includes WSAs for which wilderness designation decisions haven’t yet been made. This compares to 1.6 million acres across 13 counties that the local office manages.

“Geocaching is really fun,” she says. “It’s a great way to get out and explore. We just ask that people use caution. Make sure you know what kind of land ownership you’re on. Don’t cross private land. Try to keep it out of those few restricted areas that we have.”

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