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Officials say illegal dumping is increasing in national forests

Bathroom fixtures and furniture litter a site in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in the Eagle River-Florence Ranger District of northern Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service say they've seen an increase of illegal dumping on national forest land in northern Wisconsin in recent years.

Illegal dumping has always been a problem, said Hilary Markin, spokeswoman for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. However, Markin said the severity of the problem ebbs and flows.

"Sometimes (it's) a dump truck full. Sometimes it's a pickup load. It just all depends. We find animal carcasses, household garbage," she said. "People just bring their trash bags out and dump them on the forest. Of course, then the critters get into them and spread it all over. It just makes a really big mess."

Illegal dumping in national forests is not just a problem in Wisconsin. The Forest Service is grappling with people dumping their trash and unwanted sofas in forests across the country.

While Markin couldn't provide figures of how often the dumping occurs because officials don't track how often or how much it happens, Forest Service officials are working to address the increasing problem.

Crews were out in the past couple weeks cleaning up trash. She said they hold cleanup days throughout the year where employees will visit a dozen or more sites.

"It's really a safety concern. It's a hazard. Aside from it being unsightly, it's also a hazard to the animals. It can be a hazard to the soils and natural resources," she said. "If you dump some toxic chemicals of some sort, you pour your oil or whatever, that's going to get into soil, which is going to get into the water, which is going to contaminate lakes, rivers, streams and potentially our source of drinking water."

If caught, Markin said people could pay a maximum fine of up to $5,000 or spend six months in jail.

She couldn't say how much money the U.S. Forest Service has spent cleaning up waste. But USFS officials said the time and money spent restoring sites is significant and takes away from other work on national forest land.

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