U.S. Forest Service forced to do trash duty

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— As a wilderness ranger for the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District, Jon Halverson spends a lot of his time maintaining trails and educating people about leaving no trace when they visit the backcountry.

Increasingly, though, his time is spent hauling trash out of the wilderness.

At one site on Corral Creek, which is near the Red Dirt Trail just outside of Steamboat Springs, Halverson and other workers spent hours packing up trash, hatchets, metal folding chairs, pots and pans and other items that people used to make a comfortable camp.

It took five horse loads to get the more than 800 pounds of trash out of the site this summer, he said.

Halverson has found everything from posts and barbed wire for corrals, to toilet seats and old foam mattresses for comfortable outdoor living. He's hauled out an 85-pound woodstove, and has even packed out an old gas range with an oven and four-burner stove.

"I realize that people do want to have all the comforts of their home, but there do need to be limits, and people do need to take responsibility for taking all of that stuff out there," Halverson said.

During the past few years, Halverson and other U.S. Forest Service workers and volunteers have cleaned up 38 spots in the wilderness area, removing more than three tons of trash.

There are 14 more sites that he has marked for cleanup, and probably dozens more that have not yet been discovered, he said.

The problem, Halverson said, extends beyond the wilderness area to public lands across the nation.

Much of the trash seems to be leftover from old hunting camps, or camps that people might use several years in a row, he said. After packing the equipment into the wilderness, people sometimes decide that it's too much trouble to take it back out, especially if they plan on returning to the same spot the next year.

But that's no excuse for leaving it, he said.

"The forest is there for everybody to use and enjoy, but we all have the responsibility to take care of it," Halverson said. "Leaving all this junk behind really spoils it for everybody else. If we don't take care of it, it's not going to be special anymore."

Halverson said he learns about the trash sites through calls from hikers, hunters and guides, as well as by stumbling upon the sites himself.

Walking into an old campsite, where trash is strewn about, is both saddening and frustrating, Halverson said.

"Wilderness is about the sense of discovery and feeling like you're the first person to visit a place," he said. Walking around a corner and finding junk strewn about ruins that feeling, he said.

"A lot of people really care about the woods and this is part of their heritage, and they want to do their part to take care of it," Halverson said. "They're very upset when people don't."

More than just being an ethical question, the decision to leave trash in the woods also is a legal question.

A person who leaves trash can be fined up to $5,000 and can spend up to six months in jail, Halverson said.

But those sorts of penalties can't make up for the time and money spent cleaning up sites. When Halverson and his workers or volunteers have to haul out trash, it costs taxpayers at least $250 a day, which doesn't include time lost that could have been spent on education and trail work.

"There are a lot of things I could be doing if I didn't have to clean up after people who really should know better," Halverson said.

Halverson encourages hikers and hunters alike to practice "Leave No Trace" camping techniques, which are explained online at www.lnt.org.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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