Trash is piling up in forests around Arizona as officials say sloppy hikers, campers and other people are using the land as a dumping ground and workers don’t have the time or the staff to keep up with it.
“Frankly, there are areas out there that are pigsties,” said Paige Rockett, spokeswoman for the Tonto National Forest, which covers nearly 3 million acres of desert, mountains, lakes and other terrain northeast of Phoenix.
In July, the Coconino National Forest posted a plea on Twitter for people to pick up after themselves.
Brienne Magee, a spokeswoman for the northern Arizona forest, said some people deliberately don’t pick up their garbage.
Then there are those that put it in big garbage bags and leave them next to forest roads as though there’s a scheduled service to pick them up.
And when people leave human waste in their bags, forest employees with hazardous-materials training have to be called to handle it.
Magee said that takes workers away from their main duties, such things as responding to fires and building and maintaining trails.
“There isn’t a trash crew on the forest,” she said. “Any trash you create has to go out with you.”
Officials say there are more people using the forests, so there’s more trash.
Rockett called the Tonto an “urban forest” since it’s so close to the Phoenix metropolitan area and gets an estimated 5 million to 6 million visitors a year.
Since people pay a fee for certain access, they might see the forest like a sports stadium or a movie theater where they believe someone will come in and clean up after them, Rockett said.
Rob Mannhard of Goodyear camps, hunts and fishes in the state’s forests and other public lands. He agrees that there’s too much trash out there.
“It’s really sad,” Mannhard said. “Every time I stop to go through a gate, I stop to pick some up….There’s a lot out there, and the stuff I’m picking up is old.”
Mannhard thinks that the people who camp and hunt and fish often aren’t the problem. Instead, he said it’s the weekend party crowd that is throwing around the most stuff.
The trash isn’t just bad to look at. It can hurt wildlife. Some of it takes years to decompose if it does at all. Aluminum cans don’t break down and some plastics take decades to do so, according to environmentalists.