HAYDEN CREEK - "Deterrence," said Bob Balser. "It all comes down to that one word. Deterrence."
Balser is concerned about the deterioration of the Hayden Creek access point to the Panhandle National Forest. He helped lead a volunteer cleanup of that part of the forest last summer. They hauled 3,800 pounds of trash out of the area.
Balser went up to check on the area earlier this week, and what he found disgusted him.
"It's like (whizzin') in the wind," he said, pointing out a half-dozen littered shooting ranges that have cropped up within the first couple of miles along Hayden Creek Road. "The more you (whizz), the more you get flying right back at you."
Balser worries that citizens will begin losing access to our national forest lands if the littering and vandalism continues.
About 20 minutes into an inspection of the popular recreation area on Wednesday, Balser spotted a four-wheel-drive SUV spinning around in a meadow turned mud bog.
"Would you allow these things to happen to your property? I am sure you wouldn't," he said. "I am sure the U.S. Forest Service doesn't like it done to them either."
He flagged down the truck to confront the young driver.
"Do you realize what you are doing is illegal?" Balser asked him. "If I could write you a ticket, I'd do it right now."
The young man, who asked not to be named, said he had no idea mud bogging was illegal.
"I thought as long as you weren't littering and stuff like that, everything else was fine," he responded.
Balser proceeded to lecture the young man on the consequences of his actions.
"I started working in the woods about 60 years ago, and do you know how many roads and trails were closed back then?" he asked the man. "I'll tell you - none. We had access to every inch of the forest back then, but over the years they have started closing off access because of stuff like this."
In the end, Balser and the young man shook hands, and the young man agreed to help clean up the area later this summer. Ironically, he and his father have been part of Hayden Creek cleanups in the past.
"You guys are going to be running this country someday and I will be long gone, so you need to understand the seriousness of this," Balser said. "And you need to tell your friends this, as well."
The young man was lucky Balser did not have the authority to write tickets. If the Forest Service would have caught the young man, it would have cost him a minimum of $250, and could possibly be held responsible to restore the property.
"Law enforcement needs to start writing more tickets in this area," Balser said, later. "We really need a deterrent to stop this type of criminal activity."
Chad Hudson, district ranger for the Coeur d'Alene River Ranger District, said the Forest Service officers are teaming up with Kootenai County's Backcountry Patrol to step up enforcement efforts in Hayden Creek.
"Our officers have been telling me that there is an unusual amount of activity up there this spring," he said. "So we are placing an emphasis on the Hayden Creek area."
He said mud bogging is a class-B federal misdemeanor. The fine is $250 minimum and a judge could increase that fine up to $5,000. A judge could also require offenders to pay for the restoration of the property, which could be costly.
Kootenai County Sheriff Lt. Stu Miller said his back county officers are seeing an increase in activity too.
"Our officers are up there writing tickets and breaking up parties almost every weekend," he said. "It's quite a pit up there."
Hudson said he is hearing from a number of citizens, like Balser, who are very concerned about the area.
"We are not considering banning weapons or limiting anyone's access," he said. "But we are going to address it."
Hudson said the Forest Service has made an effort to begin cleaning up some of makeshift shooting ranges that are littered with shell casings, animal carcasses, beer cans and even household appliances. He has plans to increase those efforts over the summer.
"We are going to work with some of these people like Bob and others to accomplish that," he added. "We are encouraging these people to help clean the area and establish more of a presence out there.
"People should also report what they see, and we will do our best to respond."
The Forest Service has discussed limiting target shooters to paper targets with wooden backings, Hudson said, in an effort to prevent dumping and litter. But he wants to exercise all the options he has available before doing anything drastic.
"We've got enough interest from people like Bob and I am confident we can get something done," Hudson said.
For more information on the volunteer cleanup efforts contact the Coeur d'Alene River Ranger District at (208) 664-2318.