BLM turns to volunteers to tackle junk piles

Aug 19, 2013

Administrators of federal lands in Southern Utah are turning to the public’s help to tackle a growing problem.

Bureau of Land Management officials in Cedar City say illegal dumping can plague wild lands near cities and towns. BLM rangers say they find discarded junk regularly – from shot-out TVs and water heaters to abandoned cars. Much of the waste comes from homes, says the BLM’s Mitch Owens.

Illegal dumping on BLM public lands.
Illegal dumping on BLM public lands.
Credit S. White, BLM.

“Usually it’s construction waste because you have to pay to dump it in the landfill,” says Owens – a recreation technician in the Cedar City Field Office. “Or just household items – tree branches, limbs and stuff like that.”

Nearly seven million people visited Utah’s public lands in 2012. Owens says a few visitors can change the landscape for everyone else by littering the space with junk. Two years ago, the Bureau spent $5,000 removing dozens of industrial tires that were left near Five Mile Pass Recreation Area in Tooele County.

“Some of these individuals are negatively impacting the land by dumping trash and old things like TVs and old appliances,” he added.

To help clean up the mess, the BLM depends on volunteers. Each September, the bureau invites residents to help pick up the waste during a nationwide campaign meant to beautify America's public lands. Student groups from Southern Utah University and local Boy Scout troops are regular volunteers. Owens says the groups make a big difference and says their efforts help educate a whole generation of responsible public land users.

“It’s nice when people come out and volunteer because they create that connection – that ownership of the land,” he said. ‘If they come out and clean up an area and see how positive it is, they’re less likely to be destructive.”

This year’s National Public Lands Day is September 28. The BLM says the event is the nation’s biggest hands-on volunteer effort to improve and enhance public lands in the U.S.