Teen parties create problems for forest

While area law enforcement officials say teens drinking and partying in the woods is illegal and unsafe, the Tahoe National Forest's Ranger District has even more concerns.

Jeff McCaskill, a fire prevention technician, and Susanne Jensen, the off-highway vehicle specialist, both work for the Truckee Ranger District with the U.S. Forest Service. And both deal with the results of kids camping and drinking in the woods.

"These parties are happening in areas that are 'restricted use' as per forest order," Jensen said. "There is no camping allowed and no fires allowed inside our restricted-use areas. So these kids are having fires in areas that they're never allowed, any time of the year, whether there are fire restrictions or not."

McCaskill agreed that the danger of such fires getting out of control is one of his primary concerns. Other factors, McCaskill said, are the messes left behind by partyers.

"Any one of these party sites that you go to are usually just littered with garbage everywhere - from paper to cups to bottles to broken bottles. And that stuff doesn't just go away, it sits there for years and years and years."

Environmental damage at teen party sites is not limited to litter. Both McCaskill and Jensen have seen trees chopped down to fuel bonfires, stumps and rocks spray-painted with graffiti and/or directions to the party, and extensive damage done to meadows and other sensitive areas by vehicles belonging to partygoers.

That all adds up to a blight on the natural state of the forest that the ranger district doesn't have the manpower to deal with.

"I get paid to put fires out and to keep an eye on what's going on in the woods; not to pick up garbage and put out fires that people are leaving behind," McCaskill said. "That's kind of another issue I suppose in the whole matter that the taxpayers are paying for us to clean up these areas."

While the cleanup costs often fall on taxpayers, kids found violating Forest Service restrictions can be assessed hefty penalties. One illegal campfire can garner separate fines of $270 for having the fire in the first place, for attending an illegal campfire, for not having proper clearance at a fire, and for leaving a fire unattended.

In addition, camping fines can be as much as $100 per night and vandalism fines can range from $150 to the total value of the object defaced. For example, a 24-inch diameter tree that is chopped down would be worth approximately $500.

Fines, however, are only a deterrent. If U.S. Forest Service personnel actually catch people at a party site - a rare occurrence according to McCaskill - they then can send a strong message.

"It's hit or miss. I catch kids early in the morning sometimes, but in most cases we'll find a hot (fire) ring with a bunch of garbage," McCaskill said.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment