Forest Service: Keep trash out of UP’s public lands

Remember Woodsy Owl and his “Give a Hoot — Don’t Pollute” signature slogan?

Decades later, pollution on public lands is still a serious and ongoing concern.

In the Upper Peninsula, tons of trash are illegally dumped every year. And Law Enforcement Officer Shaun Hughes said this isn’t just household trash.

“I have been seeing widespread dumping along National Forest roads, involving everything from tires, trash, appliances, electronics and yard waste,” Hughes said.

“While the dumper may avoid paying the nominal fees required for proper waste disposal, illegal dumping on public lands has a high hidden cost for local communities,” said Charlie Marsh, West Zone District ranger.

And the highest hidden cost is not just the harmful environmental impact — which is significant — but the very real threat to human life.

“Trash sites containing hazardous substances have caused injury and fatalities and represent a serious safety concern for our personnel and the public,” said Paul Thompson, acting St. Ignace ranger.

“There are physical hazards, such as broken glass, rusty metal, and vehicle parts scattered across the surface,” said Shane Flickinger, a hydrologist and soil scientist with the Hiawatha National Forest. “And chemical hazards such as volatiles and heavy metals are also present in the soil.”

These toxic chemicals and heavy metals leach into the soil and water, which can harm and even kill plants, animals, and in some cases, people.

“Contaminated soil can reduce soil productivity and allow for the spread of invasive plants over native species,” Flickinger said. “Groundwater contamination can impact wildlife, the forest’s lakes and streams, residential wells, or possibly even municipal water supplies.”

Recently, the Hiawatha received a grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to conduct a feasibility study to determine the best way to rehabilitate a site close to a planned Bay Mills Indian Community housing unit. Because a conventional clean-up could disturb the soil enough to release more hazardous chemicals in the soil, some buried trash may have to be left in place to avoid contaminating the groundwater even further.

And cleaning up all this waste is an ongoing task that requires an enormous amount of manpower and taxpayer dollars. The East Zone of the Hiawatha hosts two Forest Clean Up Days every year, and Recreation Manager Kari Thompson said volunteers will generally fill two 30-yard dumpsters on both days.

“Trash sites create an unnecessary clean-up burden, and the potential for resource-consuming hazardous materials investigations,” Paul Thompson said.

Law enforcement takes reports of illegal dumping seriously. Anyone caught doing so could be hit with a fine of $500 per bag of trash and even be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. More serious violations could result in a fine of up to $10,000 and six months behind bars.

The public can help by simply packing out whatever is packed in and reporting any illegal dumping seen to the Hiawatha National Forest. Contact information is available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/contactus/hiawatha/about-forest/contactus.


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