Program to combat littering may soon lose funding

It’s an unusually sunny November morning at the U.S. Forest Service Clackamas River Ranger District near Estacada. The parking lot slowly fills with various vehicles as 9 a.m. approaches.

Inside, many of the familiar faces from the Dump Stoppers program sit around a conference table to discuss the day’s strategy for picking up litter on public lands in the area.

Dump Stoppers began in 2003 as a partnership between the ranger district, the Clackamas County forestry department, Bureau of Land Management and other state and federal agencies.

The partnership was prompted, in part, by growing concerns surrounding unlawful shooting and related littering at rock quarries and other sites.

Since it started, Dump Stoppers has cleaned up 775,000 pounds of solid waste, 8,000 tires, 450 vehicles, 8,000 pounds of hazardous waste and 60,000 pounds of scrap metal.

Funding for the program has been provided by Title II grants associated with the Secure Rural Schools Act. But the last of those dollars are set to run out next year, leaving Dump Stoppers’ future very much in jeopardy.

Dump Stoppers Clackamas County Coordinator Robin Wiley said the group has disposed of any number of assorted items over the years. They include such items as roofing, sheetrock, furniture, mattresses, a hot tub and even an entire motor home that had been sawed to pieces.

“We get a little bit of everything,” Wiley said.

By 9:30 a.m., the group is ready to head out. On this particular day, Robin and his fellow Dump Stopper David Chase are joined by three people from the county’s community corrections department. They are participating in today’s cleanup as part of their court-ordered community service.

The three-vehicle caravan heads out, leaving Estacada and climbing Highway 224 on the way to Memaloose.

There, they are greeted by the sight of fallen leaves, the Clackamas River rushing below, and a whole lot of trash, including a gigantic stuffed animal and several large pieces of carpet.

As the community corrections crew gets to work, Wiley hops in his vehicle and drives up the road looking for other dump sites. Many of these exact places are ones that he and Chase have cleaned up within the past week.

“One place here looked like a pumpkin massacre,” Wiley said. “It was horrible.”

Some of these sites are popular with shooters but lack any kind of a backstop. Consequentially, stray bullets have been known to travel down to the highway and to the river.

Multiple locations contain the remnants of orange clay pigeons and red shotgun shells, which look like brightly colored pieces of confetti sprinkled atop the landscape.

April through September tend to be the program’s busiest months. Clackamas County Sheriff’s Deputy Louis Serafin is assigned to follow up on the cases. Sometimes, enough evidence is found in the trash to link it to a suspect. Serafin then makes contact, with violators facing the cost of cleanup and a fine between $750 and $2,500.

There are cases in which people pay somebody to dispose of their trash properly, Serafin said, only to have the dump fee money pocketed and the waste placed on public land.

A hotline has been established so citizens can report illegal dumps directly to the group.

“We’ve been keeping up with most of it,” Wiley said.

After finishing up around Memaloose, the group heads back toward Estacada and to Hillockburn Road.

Wiley pulls up to one area that recently had been trashed, only to find it has already been cleaned up.

The community corrections crew finishes its cleanup of another area nearby as Wiley heads back to the ranger district office, reflecting on what the loss of the program will mean for the public.

“I don’t know what they’ll do when it’s all over,” he said. “I would hate to see the program go away.”

Gwen Collier, a soil scientist with the ranger district, said she knows exactly what would happen if Dump Stoppers were to cease its operations.

“We would continue to have a garbage and trash buildup in the forest,” Collier said. “It would be never-ending.”

To report an illegal dump on public land, or for more information on the program, call the Dump Stoppers hotline at 503-650-3333.

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