After months of living in lockdown, it's no surprise that quarantine-weary Oregonians have been eager to hike, camp and swim this summer.
But many of the people who have gotten back to nature this season are leaving it trashed.
The Malheur National Forest is the latest agency to report increased vandalism and theft throughout the 1.7 million-acre preserve in Eastern Oregon's Blue Mountains.
Recreation staff say they've seen a surge of visitors this season along with signs of their stay, which have ranged from graffiti on natural features to fire rings ripped from the ground. That means Forest Service workers, who are already stretched thin following the loss of user fees from COVID-related spring closures, are now busy replacing, fixing and cleaning facilities.
The staff says the increased workload diverts attention from critical responsibilities, like trail and campground maintenance, while also emptying an already-limited budget.
The vandalism also creates a safety hazard for other recreationists. Maps and trailhead sign boards have gone missing, which provide much-needed directions and alerts. People have even stolen placards commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, which are not easy to replace because they were provided by a national program.
The Malheur National Forest joins other agencies that have asked the public to enjoy the outdoors responsibly.
Last week, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area posted an announcement on its Facebook page about an inundation of trash, advising hikers to bring an extra bag to collect litter they may find along the route.
Also this month, the Willamette National Forest took a more philosophical approach to similar behavior by sharing a collection of photos showing piles of wadded-up tissue paper and even an illegal dump with the message, "What would it look like to engage in a meaningful interdependent relationship with the Forest and with one another?"
Whether you feel guilty for getting a scolding by the U.S. Forest Service or simply want to respect nature, always remember the recreationist's golden rule: Pack out what you pack in. Report any vandalism to the nearest ranger district. And never leave forest fires unattended.