At an informal shooting range near Hayden Lake, the targets are anything that will take a bullet.
That includes vacuum cleaners, air conditioners and a mysterious square of pock-marked metal that Lisa Isaacks prodded with her boot one morning last week.
“It’s an engine block,” concluded Isaacks, a Forest Service protection officer. Further investigation revealed the tires and rusted frame of a vehicle too shot up to be recognizable.
The old gravel pit is a notorious dumping ground in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests. While target practice is allowed at the site, discarding garbage is illegal.
Yet every year, the Forest Service hauls truckloads of trash out of the site and hires a tow truck to get rid of at least one abandoned vehicle. Last week, volunteers from Camp MiVoden, a Seventh-day Adventist retreat on Hayden Lake, filled the back of a Forest Service pickup with 4,000 pounds of litter from the shooting range.
“That’s quite a bit of trash,” said Christina Soule, the camp’s assistant director.
The volunteers joined 75 employees of the Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District, who spent the day picking up garbage from problem sites on the 732,000-acre ranger district. Along with household trash, they picked up couches, stoves, refrigerators and “enough tires to stock Les Schwab,” said District Ranger Randy Swick.
The annual cleanup gives the sites “a spit and polish for the summer,” he said. “Then we hope folks will take care of them.”
Illegal dumping is a perpetual headache for Forest Service officials. Money spent cleaning up trash siphons funds from other priorities. Each abandoned vehicle costs at least $300 in towing fees. When 55-gallon drums of chemicals are discovered on the Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District, Swick has to call in a hazardous materials team to safely dispose of them.
Even assigning Forest Service employees to routine garbage pickup has a cost, said Franklin Pemberton, a spokesman for the Colville National Forest.
“They’re not out maintaining trails or cleaning campgrounds or doing the natural resource work that people want us to do,” he said.
Areas near population centers get the brunt of the dumping. That’s puzzling, too, Pemberton said.
Many of the discarded items, such as old appliances or tires, can be recycled for free or dropped off at transfer stations for nominal charges. Transfer stations are closer, and people don’t risk a citation for illegal dumping on federal lands, Pemberton said. Illegal dumping is a Class B misdemeanor, and convictions can carry fines of up to $5,000 and sentences of up to six months in jail.
In the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, officers cite one or two people each month for illegal dumping, said Jason Kirchner, forest spokesman.
“We know that there is obviously much more occurring,” he said.
Officers look for names on receipts in household trash and check abandoned cars for vehicle identification numbers. But some of their best breakthroughs come from citizens who see and report illegal dumping. Several years ago, a man was cited for dumping construction debris in the Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District.
Someone saw him and took a picture of his license plate.