Our public lands protect resources that belong to everyone yet some people decide to steal our resources for their own personal enrichment—robbing this and future generations.
This past summer two local NW California residents were found guilty of poaching redwood burls from our state and national parks. Stealing those burls not only increases the likelihood that the tree may die, it removes sprouts for future redwoods and sends a signal to tourists that some in our community don’t care; so why should visitors? Vandalism and poaching are not new, of course. The Lacey Act of 1894, which was one of the first federal laws to protect wildlife in National Parks,was named after a man who was found skinning 5 bison inside the park boundary of Yellowstone National Park.
The problem is not just local, and includes living and non-living resources like fossils. In Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona, park managers estimate up to 12 tons of petrified wood is illegally removed from the park each year. Thieves poach approximately 500 and 1000 native ginseng plants each year from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. The native plants bring up to $200 on the Asian black market. One man was convicted of stealing 83 plants last year.
In Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona, a local resident notified park rangers that someone had dug up 17 saguaros in the park to sell. Last year graffiti was discovered on eight saguaro cactuses, signs and rocks in the park. Park officials said many of the cactuses tagged were 100 to 150 years old.
Parks and public lands are immensely inspiring to painters, musicians and writers, but when people chip away at ancient pictographs or paint in (or on) wild areas without permission, they incorrectly assume their right to expression trumps the right of everyone else to enjoy nature and cultural treasures unaltered.
In recent weeks it was revealed that someone had defaced at least ten national parks with paintings on rocks. The vandal shared photos of their “art” on social media, causing a public outcry. The individual has been identified and arrested.
Also just this month, a man was found guilty of prying a piece of sandstone with an ancient three-toed dinosaur track from a trail for off-road vehicles near Moab in southeastern Utah.
“I don’t have a lot to say.” the man said. “I’m just extremely sorry for a horrible decision that I made.”
What can be done?
Biologists and volunteers at Great Smoky mountain National Park, as in other public areas, are using a marking technique on ginseng and other plants that have a high black-market value so poachers can be traced and prosecuted.
Locally, the Save-the-Redwoods League, Redwood Parks Association and the Center for Biological Diversity have offered a $5,000 reward for anyone who provides information that leads to prosecution of poachers.
Individually, each of us can:
1. Not purchase items that we think might have been come illegally from public lands.
2. Contact law enforcement or public land managers when we hear about or see vandalism or poaching.
3. Explain to our friends and family the impacts of vandalism and poaching of public trust resources. It doesn’t hurt rangers or agencies; vandalism hurts everyone, now and future generations.
Protecting our public lands and resources does not require Congress to write new laws or legislation, it only requires our continued support.