Crime in the Forest
Vandals at the Gate
Late at night in a rural
forested area of southwest Washington State, a pickup truck dumps a load of broken sheetrock on private property near a fishing stream. One weekend, just east of Seattle, vandals use a cutting torch to remove a gate made of railroad steel and drain a tank of ipxic chemicals down a gully on private timberland. Illegal dumping and vandalism are making things ugly in many parts of the forest.
The problems are serious and growing worse, especially near urban areas, as landfills close and dump fees increase.
Marijuana growing in the woods, although not the high-profile crime it once was, remains a concern for many landowners. Theft in the forest is also a continuing problem; it, too, hasn't received as much attention, most likely because theft incidents have not been as startling as some recent vandalism.
When landowners run out of patience with such attacks, they look for legal remedies—or close their lands to the public entirely. Yet even stout gates don't always keep out the dumpers and vandals. In Washington State, private landowners, led by the Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA), helped gain passage of a new "treble damages" law in 1994. WFPA is a trade association representing about 65 individuals and companies managing nearly five million acres of private forestland in the state. By enforcing heavy jjenaltjes against lawbreakers, the new law may help keep more private land open to the public for casual recreational uses.
The Scope of the Problem
WFPA members and other private landowners have traditionally enjoyed a good relationship with the public, opening their lands to hunting, fishing, sightseeing, and even some camping. Closures generally only occurred around active harvest areas or in times of high fire potential But in recent years the_acts of a few individuals have led to a decline in landowner hospitality.
Landowners are in a bind not only because of damage to timber and equipment but because of the mounting costs of cleaning up the messes left by vandals and thieves. In Washington State, the government avoids assuming cleanup duties by placing legal liability for removing dumped material on the landowner, regardless of who put it there. When the material is toxic waste, liability risks increase and removal becomes even more dangerous and costly.
Dumping is a serious issue on government-owned land as well. In Washington, the state owns more than two million acres of timberland, which is managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Neither this land nor the more than five million acres managed by the USDA Forest Service within the state are immune from vandalism problems. A 1990 WFPA survey found more than 2,650 illegal dump sites on private land in the state and more than 1,650 illegal sites on DNR land. And the problem lias grown worse since the survey, according to WFPA officials.
From Vandalism to Drugs
Dumps as large as three acres have been discovered on sites throughout Washington's forestland. The most common contents are household garbage, which fills 50 percent or more of the sites investigated. The 1990 survey tound more than 1,000 appliances and furniture items and more than 500 car bodies dumped on private and public land. Ani-mal carcasses are often dumped and. as a grim reminder of increasingly violent crime, even human bodies have been discovered, particularly oft roads with quick access to urban areas.
Hazardous waste is also a serious problem at illegal dumping sites, increasing the
potential for soil and water contamination. More than 100 of the dumps found on private land were adjacent to creeks or lakes. The hazardous waste sites arc especially complicated and expensive to clean up, with some individual sites costing more than $100,000.
Vandalism tor protest purposes is becoming more frequent on private land too.
The radical environmental group Earth First! apparently took credit for two arson fires that caused more than 5350,000 in damages to a small logging company's equipment near Olympia late in July 1994. Ал anonymous caller to the Wash-ington Contract Loggers Association office said the destruction was "retaliation by the Earth Firsters to protect the planet earth from loggers."
Marijuana growing is one crime in which a difference between private and government-owned lands has developed in recent years. Ten to 1 5 years ago marijuana was a serious problem in all for
ested areas of the Northwest. Growers ever) carried guns arid set up trip weapons around their growing sites, so a walk in the woods could be a dangerous experience. Today, much illegal crop management has moved under "grow lights" inside buildings and underground in spaces created by burying shipping containers • or even.old buses. Growers who still like the great outdoors, however, tc'nd to favor government land; For example, in early June of 1994 federal employees on the Colville National Forest discovered about 70 marijuana plants. The plants were in groups of two or three, apparently to make them difficult to spot from the air. Therefore, federal investigators used video cameras hidden in forestland to investigate the operation throughout the summer; Cameras near the plants filmed people tending the crop. In Octo-ber, as the plants were ncaring maturity, two men were arrested at the scene. At the time of the arrest one of the men was
More than 2,650 illegal dump sites such this one were found in a 1990 Washing!
Forest Protection Association surrey. Tin presence disturbs the forest environme and has forced many landowners to de the public access to forestland.
carrying a loaded riHc.
Although incidents such as this a less common today, drug-related activii can make it dangerous to be in th woods. This past October a Forest Se vice law enforcement officer in Orego was shot while looking at a marijuan patch through bjn^ujjus. In tact, th binoculars probably saved his life becaus a bullet hit them, glanced oft. and lei him with only a minor wound above hi right eye.
Theft in the torest continues to grow a well, with problems such as vehicle break ins and loss ot valuable plants atlcclini landowners and recreationists alike. Uu the greatest losses are from theft of timber especially cedar in western Washington which is used as roofing material. Cedai thieves often use muffled chainsaws at night to obtain their supply. One state official estimated timber theft losses .it $250,000 each month from private and p^ubj_iЈ forestland. The sherift of one coastal area county recently noted that timber theft losses are greater than bank theft losses in Washington State. Tighter laws for timber hauling permits have helped limit this kind of theftj
The Treble Damages Law
Treble damage laws for timber theft have been in place in Washington since the late 1800s, but torest and agriculture
ing and vandalism in June 1994. The new ' regulation allows landowners to collect three times the cost of cleanup ofclamagc from apprehended lawbreakers. This new tool should help reduce the incidence of
V private land violations and keep such for- • ested lands open for public enjoyment.
Lands owned by the state had been
✓ granted treble damages authority in 1993, so even more pressure had been building on the private lands, which .remained without the protection of a more severe penalty for lawbreakers until the new legislation.
Under the treble damages law, recoverable damages "include, but are not limited to, damages for the market value of the property removed or injured, and for injury to the land, including the costs of restoration." Dumpers and vandals are "liable for reimbursing the injured party for the party's reasonable costs, including but not limited to investigative coses and reasonable attorneys' fees and other litigation-related costs."
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Enforcement and Protection
Even with the strength of new legislation, lawbreakers must first be caught.
With large forested landscapes and many roads, this is not always easy. Mike Learn, a Forest Service spokesman for the loaches Ranger District in central Wash-ington, notes that there are 500,000 acres of forestland in his district alone and not enough people to cover it.
Larger companies and governments employ security people. In some cases cooperative funding is established between landowners and local law enforcement officials for special forest-patrordeputies.
The state DNR hired three investigators in 1994—at a cost of $122,000 a yearto control abuse of state-owned resources.
Unfortunately, the most common form of protection employed by both private and public forest managers is closure of lands to the public. Many hunting erjthu-siasts in Washington were disappointed in 1994 when lands gatcd-off during the state's worst-ever fire season were not reopened in the fall. Boise Cascade, for example, kept most of the gates locked on its 50,000-acre Goldendale Tree Farm in eastern Washington during deer season. "We haven't had any bodies dumped here, but we do have our share of people coming in to do things besides hunt, fish, and camp," company forester Rich Lawson told a Spo-kane newspaper. "We are seeing more garbage dumping, illegal firewood gathering, and vandalism."
Where gates have been removed or are otherwise inappropriate, some landowners dig up roads and build dirt berms to block access. If well done, such obstructions limit access for even four-wheel drive vehicles, although trail bikes can usually get by. Government land managers have been forced to close access as well. In November 1994 the state DNR installed a gate to block access to Capitol Peak near Olympia. The lockup was necessary, officials said, to limit costly vandalism and rifle shooting, The activities have damaged communications buildings and microwave dishes atop the 2,659-foot peak in the heart of the 100,000-acre Capitol Forest. Sometimes •a State Patrol relay station has been [blasted off the air.
Hostile visitors to state land also dump garbage and rip down fences to gain access. The DNR has been forced to prohibit motor vehicle access to an 8,200-acre site north of Seattle where illegal shooting destroyed $500,000 worth of property. DNR has also prohibited access to a 6,000-acre area west of Seattle where vandals caused $30,000 in garbage cleanup costs and damage to new recreational facilities.
Another response to dumping and
vandalism problems is to limit access
through a fee program. In October 1994 Weyerhaeuser Company began to charge a $50 annual fee for vehicle access to company land near the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. The new fee produced some complaints from the public, generally from people interested in hunting and fishing. It is too soon to know if the new restrictions will deliver lasting results. Weyerhaeuser land managers in other parts of the state have not yet adopted the fee. The first and most formal fee-access program in the state is on Champion International's Kapowsin Tree Farm near Mt. Rainier. Champion strictly controls access, supports wildlife enhancement, and works to deliver a quality hunting experience to fee payers.
Some landowners have developed public information and education programs in an attempt to minimize problems. Weyerhaeuser asked for help from the public early in 1994 to deal with garbage dumping and vandalism on its land in southwest Washington near Longview.
As a result, the company has seen some positive results and people stepping forward tonelp. Small newspaper advertisements and posters along roads remind people that "access to private lands is a privilege." and the same message is delivered through handout pamphlets. A tollfree telephone number is in place for reporting illegalJnrjHrnrs
Forest crime is a frustrating dilemma for forestland owners who have tradition: ally opened their lands to public use.
Most landowners would like to solve such
problems through public education and
mutual cooperation;. But the mounting
cost of crime, especially illegal dumping
and vandalism, is driving them to seek relief through more land closures and protective legislation. ИЗЭ
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael D. Munson is director of communi-cations, Washington Forest Protection Associ-ation, 711 Capitol Way, Suite 60S, Olym-pia, WA 98501.