Many people escape to the Maine woods to recreate, unwind and enjoy the pristine nature that awaits.
That’s the theory, anyway.
Actually, the state’s woods are not all that pristine. In fact, in many areas, locals and visitors have taken to using those woods as their own personal landfills, dumping trash and household appliances on land they don’t own.
Officials at the Maine Forest Service are well-acquainted with that harsh reality. And for the second year, they’re doing something about it, organizing a landowner appreciation cleanup day that will take place on Sept. 15.
“[We’re doing this, with the help of volunteers] because we, as law enforcement, respond to hundreds of illegal dumping cases every year. We dig through trash. We’ll find names, we’ll interview people, and if we think they dumped, they’ll get a summons,” said Jeffrey B. Currier, Regional Forest Ranger for the Maine Forest Service. “We think that’s important, because we know that an easy solution for a landowner, often, is to put up a ‘No Trespassing’ sign and throw up gates and say, ‘Nobody uses my property.’”
According to a Maine Forest Service press release, rangers have investigated more than 275 litter complaints thus far in 2012. Currier said last year’s landowner appreciation cleanup day targeted known dumpsites across the state.
Currier said that the Maine Forest Service’s responsibilities stretch far beyond those that the general public may often assume.
“Our mission, for regular work, is wildfire control, natural resource law enforcement, everything except for the fish and game laws, and then incident management and disaster response,” Currier said. “When we accepted this mission, we thought it fell very nicely into who we are as an organization.”
Currier pointed out that his organization’s slogan also meshes well with this particular mission: “Protecting Landowners since 1891.”
Currier said that the MFS treats the landowner appreciation day as it would any other incident that it has to manage, and relies on technology to send crews to the dumpsites that rangers have logged in on their smartphones, which have in turn been overlaid onto a map.
“We’re considering it like a large fire or other type of disaster that we might manage,” Currier said. “It’s an event.”
During last year’s landowner appreciation cleanup day, Currier said the MFS made a huge dent in the problem of forest litter — at least at sites that had been reported.
“Last year we were able to access all of our known dumpsites because we investigate them, we catalog them,” Currier said. “We were able to come up with [and clean up] 136 dumpsites last year. We didn’t do all of the work on our own. In the majority of cases we had assistance from volunteer groups, whether it be ATV and snowmobile clubs, the Boy Scouts, university groups. Anybody who uses the outdoors, we asked them to come help us.”
At those 136 sites, workers collected 100 tons of garbage and more than 1,000 tires, Currier said. “It was just crazy.”
Currier said planning the cleanup under the same template that a disaster response would be planned makes sense: To many, the situation in the woods borders on disaster.
“To a landowner, [finding a dumpsite is] disheartening. It’s hurtful. It makes them angry. And as a law enforcement officer, I’ve dealt with a whole gamut of cases in our mission set,” Currier said. “I’ve dealt with putting arsonists away, that start fires, I’ve put away thieves that have stolen thousands of dollars of timber. Taking all that into account, we get more public accolades and more pats on the back and thank-yous, out of all those cases, in the area of illegal dumping.
“The public really can relate to it. Everybody really sees it as a problem. And people really take notice when we [prosecute a case and have the site cleaned up],” he said.
Currier said the Maine Forest Service is still signing up interested groups to help clean up dumpsites on Sept. 15. The service is also working with area transfer stations, many of which take the garbage at a reduced rate or don’t charge at all.
Anyone interested in volunteering can find more information at the Maine Forest Service’s Facebook page: facebook.com/pages/Maine-Forest-Rangers/236154706462544. They also can sign up by calling800-750-9777.