Vandals Lay Waste to Conservation
Bill Klatt, the Department's Regional Forestry Supervisor, said Department employees in the area spend a lot of time removing graffiti with sandpaper and paint.
Once, a vandal broke into the cab and broke every pane of glass - all 72 of them. Two weeks later, vandals broke in again and broke 36 new panes.
"Materials, mileage and labor added up to about $600 to repair the glass," Klatt said. "These are actual costs of repair and do not take into account the three days of labor that our employees otherwise would have been spent managing our resources and public use areas."
The ground below many of the fire towers sparkles like diamonds in the sunlight from all the bottles that have been dropped. The shattered glass makes walking dangerous for visitors, and it's especially hazardous to children. It's also difficult to remove.
"When we catch the vandals, we make them clean it up," Klatt said. "But once again, when agents spend time trying to catch vandals, it takes them away from other important duties, such as helping landowners improve their land for wildlife and catching wildlife violators.
Sometimes vandalism involves drugs, and it can be more dangerous to the environment than broken glass. At the Patrick Bridge Access on the North Fork River in Ozark County, a trash barrel was found emitting fumes that smelled like battery acid and smoke caused by a chemical reaction. Tim Stanton, the Department's Forestry District Supervisor, said foresters and agents in the area have been finding caustic material, such as muriatic acid and hydrochloric acid, as well as cleaning solvents, that are used to make methamphetamine. Other items that indicate illegal drugs are being manufactured on public land include rubber gloves, calibrated glass tubes, plastic piping and coffee filters.
"Many people are using these remote areas to make these drugs," Stanton said. "It is not only dangerous to people, but it harms the resource, especially if it is done next to a stream."
Firing ranges also take a hit from vandals.
"At Sugar Creek Range, vandals have hauled in televisions and other junk, then shot them up," said Matt Wolken, Protection Regional Supervisor. "Then, Department staff have to clean and haul off all the debris. At Rocky Fork Lake Conservation Area, the range was closed for four months in 1999 because vandals used unconventional targets. Among other things, they destroyed a privy. After many long hours of cleanup and repairs, the range was reopened, but without toilet facilities.
"People shoot the wooden target posts instead of the targets," added Dave Lewis. "We can't use metal because the bullets might ricochet. Some people leave their casings, which can cause other users to slip, trip and fall. They also leave behind targets and trash."
The agents and other Department employees check on the areas regularly, but they also get help from concerned citizens.
"All over the state, local folks are unofficially adopting our areas," Lewis said. "They make a presence, and as a result, we have much less vandalism at those areas."
As an example, Lewis mentioned a man he's seen at the Scrivner Road Range who picks up trash and also encourages other users to do the same.
"I went out one week to shoot, and it was very clean, and I know our maintenance crew hadn't been there for a few days," Lewis said.
It's hard to say exactly how much money is wasted on vandalism each year, but Lewis estimates the Department spends about $200,000 a year for cleanup and repairs. That is the same amount the Department collects from the sale of 18,182 resident fishing permits or 22,222 small game hunting permits. That's a considerable amount of money that could be used to improve your enjoyment of Missouri's outdoors.