Last month, President Trump signed the massive Natural Resource Management Act into law.

It protects public lands across the country and several locations in Oregon, including the creation of the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness area in southwestern Oregon — a 30,000-acre swath that includes some of the largest old-growth forest stands and remote areas in the Coast Range.

OPB “Weekend Edition” host John Notarianni recently talked with Cascadia Wildlands executive director Josh Laughlin about the area.  

“If you look at the Coast Range from above, this area sticks out like a sore thumb,” Laughlin said. “The Coast Range has been heavily fragmented through industrial forestry and clear-cutting over the last 100 years, but this place has managed to elude industrialization due to its steep slopes, remote location and inaccessibility.”

It’s so remote that hikes to its namesake Devil’s Staircase waterfall often end with adventurers getting lost in the steep, dense wilderness.

“We’ve actually discouraged people from trying to go and find this place,” Laughlin said. “Because they could spend an unexpected night out in the wilderness – that’s happened to a number of people.”

The new designation adds additional protections from Congress. Laughlin calls it the “gold standard” in wildlands preservation. But now the question is whether to build trails through the wilderness area or to leave it remote. 

“It’s a real quick and easy way to ruin a wild area if there’s not enough forethought put into this question,” Laughlin said. “What we’ve seen in places like the Three Sisters and Mount Jefferson – these other wilderness areas that have been on the map for decades – they’re being loved to death. Hoards of crowds, trash, broken bottles … all the things that are the antithesis of what the wilderness is all about.”

Use the audio player above to hear the full conversation from OPB’s “Weekend Edition.”