The Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest (NHAL) is 232,000 acres of pristine northern Wisconsin wilderness. It enables thousands of visitors every year to experience the sights, sounds, and serenity of the wild Northwoods. It is truly a public treasure.
Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates it as such.
According to Craig Dalton, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s property manager of the NHAL, there has been rampant dumping of garbage, including large items like appliances, tires, and furniture, all across the state forest.
“It’s frustrating that people treat the woods that way,” Dalton said. “We’ve actually filled our 40 yard dumpster like three times this year. Just from appliances and construction waste, you name it, it’s got everything in it.”
The culprits, in every county the forest spans, including Iron, Vilas, and Oneida, are taking advantage of the gigantic size of the NHAL and are finding back roads to remote areas to dispose of their trash.
“We got a lot of open roads now, and that’s probably one reason we do have the amount of dumping that we have,” Dalton said. “A lot of places to get back in the boonies where nobody’s going to see you doing it.”
But Dalton said all that access, which was designed for the convenience of those wishing to enjoy the forest, will be limited if the problems persist.
“The ramifications of it could be, hey, we close a bunch of roads, because this problem is out of hand in my mind,” he said.
In addition to the desecration of the natural beauty on the state forest, the dumped trash is pulling forest staff off their normal duties to clean it up.
“Other things, which people really want us to be doing, doesn’t happen on the forest if we have to spend time doing this,” Dalton explained. “It takes us away from doing our regular job.”
Limited Term Employees (LTEs), thus far, have been doing the lion’s share of the clean up work, but that has taken them away from helping the regular state forest staff with other projects. One of the LTE positions is expiring soon and will not be refilled.
“It’s going to tumble to the regular staff a little more and that’s not good,” Dalton said.
The NHAL staff is being proactive about the persistent dumping and they are cleaning up trashed areas as soon as they are made aware of them, to prevent them from becoming habitual sites.
“If you don’t attend to it, it seems like they grow,” said Dalton, who added that warning signs are being placed at habitual dumping sites and trail cameras are being deployed throughout the forest to catch responsible parties.
But the forest is so vast and the NHAL staff cannot possibly monitor the entire property, therefore they encourage the public to help out by reporting garbage dumping and/or dump sites.
“If somebody sees something happening, tap the warden tip line. That’s the way to do it,” Dalton said. “You don’t have to talk to them. Don’t approach them. Don’t do any of that. Just get a license plate number if you can and get out of there and call the tip line.”
The DNR violation hotline is 1-800-TIP-WDNR or 1-800-847-9367.
The minimum civil forfeiture for littering is $200.50. For large items like furniture and appliances the ticket goes up to $767.50.
“We’d like to have a proactive approach where we make it more difficult for people by catching a few of them and getting them cited,” Dalton said.
Dalton said a few citations have been written by wardens as a result of people leaving identifying information behind in their trash.
“They’re able to track it down that way,” Dalton said. “Those are tickets I really like to see written.”
In addition to keeping their eyes peeled, the public can also help out by pitching in. Dalton is seeking help from any group or individuals willing to participate in a state forest clean-up day. The dump sites are all cataloged and the DNR would provide a centralized location to drop off the garbage. What they need is the manpower and means to transport the junk.
Thousands of people look to the NHAL and it’s natural splendor as a haven. It provides the ideal setting for all kinds of outdoor activity, from hunting and fishing to hiking and skiing to snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Those who litter the forest taint those activities for everybody by ruining the one thing that is central to them all-the beauty in which they take place.
And the NHAL is public property. Therefore everyone has the right to enjoy it, but no one has the right to desecrate it.
“It should be kind of second nature that you can’t just go dump your trash wherever you want on the state land. It’s the people’s forest,” Dalton said. “It’s one thing as property manager, it really bothers me, but as a citizen even more so.”
If interested in participating in a state forest clean-up day contact Craig Dalton at [email protected]
Jacob Friede may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]