ST. GEORGE – Members of a local off-road club turned out Saturday morning to help clean up the lands they enjoy and put a dent in the massive amount of garbage that is illegally dumped on Washington County’s public lands.
The project was sponsored by the Desert Roads and Trails Society, and participants included members of the Utah Public Lands Alliance and local Jeepers.
“We love to go out in this gorgeous area and see everything there is off-road,” Desert RATS board member Joan Hayes said. “We love it, it’s so gorgeous in Southern Utah but we’ve noticed there are those that leave trash all over. It makes us very sad.”
The club has decided to organize cleanup projects at least four times a year in addition to the annual Sand Mountain cleanup for National Public Lands Day.
The group hopes to influence the whole off-road community, both now and in the future, Desert RATS board President Jeff Bieber said.
“I’ve got grandkids, I’ve got kids and they all like to … be in the outdoors and see the scenery and stuff,” Bieber said. “Hopefully the impact we’re trying to make here will carry through to the next generation or two and we can have some good places to come out and enjoy the outdoors.”
About 25 vehicles, mostly Jeeps, and 35 people showed up to clean up trash in the Washington County area around Black Rock Road, Exit 27 off Interstate 15 in Arizona just south of the Utah border.
The trash collected in the area included old tires, glass and plastic bottles, thousands of nails from pallet fires, carpet and many other items.
The Bureau of Land Management provided a 15-yard dumpster for the project, which was more than filled by the volunteers.
Illegal dumping – a big problem
There is a big problem with illegal dumping on Washington County land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and the culprits are hard to catch because of the large area involved.
“We spend a lot of time chasing down illegal dumping,” BLM Law Enforcement Ranger Curtis Racker said. “Our biggest problem is trying to tie the trash to a person.”
Several organizations hold organized cleanups throughout the year, Racker said, including off-road clubs like the Desert RATS, mountain biking clubs and Boy Scout troops. But, he said, it is still hard for the BLM to stay ahead of the problem.
The BLM makes regular patrols for all the BLM land in the county but has no regular cleanup personnel. Rangers will pick up what they can when they see it, but that is often not enough.
“The trash attracts more trash,” Racker said. “So if we can get it out of there, before it’s attracting more … ”
Shooting areas are particularly problematic. Target shooters often leave their cardboard targets, thinking they’re doing a favor for the next person, Racker said, but the targets get rained on and turn into trash. More trash accumulates and soon there are televisions, washing machines and refrigerators being dumped for shooting targets.
This type of garbage is not just unsightly, it is also hazardous, Racker said. Televisions and other electronics contain several heavy metals, including lead and arsenic. One or two shot-up televisions can be cleaned up by the BLM or volunteers but more than that can get into the soil such that it can actually become a hazardous material site requiring an extremely costly and time-consuming cleanup.
“It’s a threat to our public lands (use) as far as being closed down because of improper use,” Racker said.
It is legal to target shoot on much of the county’s BLM-managed land, with the exception of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and wilderness areas. However, there are a few rules: Have a safe backstop; clean up your trash and debris; and shoot responsibly.
The penalty for illegal dumping is “not enough,” Racker said, although he prefers to work with people caught dumping, he said. A simple ticket is $250 or more, and offenders can also be charged with a class A misdemeanor which is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Taking residential trash to the Washington County landfill is free, Racker said, although there is a fine for not having the garbage covered.
Racker said his agency needs all the help it can get. He asks that residents help with the problem by reporting illegal dumping on public lands. If you see someone who appears to be dumping illegally, he said, write down the license plate number and vehicle description and call 435-627-4300 – the nonemergency contact number for all Washington County agencies. An officer will investigate the situation.
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