Vandalism sending the wrong message to forest officials |

Vandalism sending the wrong message to forest officials

Wilderness, including the three mountain wilderness areas that nearly encircle Aspen, is valuable primarily because it’s a refuge from the hassles and stresses of daily life. So any bureaucratic intrusion on the wilderness experience is a shame.

We have opposed in these pages the establishment of more regulations, fees and permit programs by the U.S. Forest Service at the portals to local wilderness areas, especially the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

However, there are ways to combat the encroachment of regulation into the wilderness experience, such as petitioning our state and federal leaders, but vandalism and sabotage aren’t among them. Last week the Forest Service revealed that new registration boxes or permit tags at 15 trailheads have been stolen or destroyed.

We actually sympathize with the anti-intrusion message the vandals seem to convey. But this kind of political speech is garbled at best, and illegal and counterproductive at worst. In fact, vandalism arguably strengthens the case for more regulation.

Destroying trail registers probably strikes these wannabe rebels as monkey-wrenching in the finest Edward Abbey tradition. But Abbey’s fictional heroes fought development and desecration of natural beauty by sabotaging bulldozers and billboards. The Forest Service, at least in the case of the trail registers, is merely taking an inventory of wilderness use. There are no fees or limitations imposed by the system.

The upshot of the inventory is to determine not only what sort of additional regulation might be required, but whether more resources should be devoted to maintenance. As a USFS ranger told The Aspen Times this week, “The better information we have, which is important with the number of users we have here, the more money we’re likely to get for maintaining trails.”

More than likely, the vandals see this permit system as one more step toward wilderness access limitations. We have the same fear. But the way to prevent fees and restrictions is to tread lightly in the wilderness, to obey existing regulations and to show the bureaucrats there’s no need to clamp down with more rules.

Vandalism just makes wilderness users look like, well, vandals.

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