In July 2018, Evan Metz of Grants Pass, Oregon drove over three miles in the Pumice Desert causing significant resource damage. The soil and vegetation were disturbed throughout the area, and in the location where he drove around in circles while a friend took pictures, the disturbance exceeded 12 inches in depth and caused widespread vegetation mortality. One hundred percent of the soil was disturbed throughout the area impacted and 90% of the plants were killed. Law enforcement park rangers cited Metz for this offense, and he paid a $200 collateral fine based upon his insurance company paying the damage assessment costs of over $60,000. At least 15 species of native plants were destroyed within the more than three acres of damage caused by this off-roading incident.
Crater Lake National Park has been experiencing an increase in the number of vehicles illegally driving off-road in the park. Year-to-date, there have been seven off-road cases where park law enforcement rangers contacted the individuals responsible, and five of those individuals were issued citations. Vehicle travel off-road is prohibited in all national parks unless otherwise posted. Not only is this a criminal offense with a penalty of up to $2,000 or 6 months in federal prison, but violators can also face civil charges for damage to park resources and the costs of rehabilitation.
Most of the off-road violations occur in the Pumice Desert area of the park or other open pumice fields. These fragile environments are covered by snow much of the year, leaving only a few months during the summer for plants to grow. Driving over this fragile soil can cause damage and leave scars that persist for many years.
Pumice Desert is one of the designated Research Natural Areas in the park because of the sensitivity of the resource and the research value of the location. Prior to the major eruption of Mount Mazama that created Crater Lake, the area which is now the Pumice Desert was a U-shaped valley carved by glaciers. During the eruption, the area was filled with a glowing avalanche of gaseous debris including pumice. The material filled in the valley to depths of greater than 200 feet, which has resulted in a well-drained, infertile soil base that has remained un-forested. Sixteen native plant species make their home in Pumice Desert.
Restoration efforts are costly and take many years. The process requires restoring soils and contours by using hand tools (such as rakes and brooms) to start the process of returning the site to natural conditions. It also requires seed collection, propagation, and replanting to aid plant establishment and jumpstart vegetative recovery efforts in disturbed areas.
Source: Crater Lake National Park