Ban on glass containers may improve safety at popular forest sites

By Alex Wilson 06/09/2011

Los Padres National Forest volunteers who labor to haul away litter from Santa Paula Canyon and its popular Punch Bowls swimming areas may soon have a lighter load to bear. That’s because United States Forest Service lawyers are working on a plan to prohibit glass containers in areas highly impacted by trash, possibly starting this summer. Similar policies have proven effective in other forests where broken bottles have resulted in injuries like cut feet, and marred the scenic natural beauty.

Ojai District Ranger Sue Exline started her new job a few months ago after working for more than 35 years in more remote areas like Sequoia and Sierra National Forests. While she loves her new assignment and hiking trails around Ojai, she was surprised by the negative aspects of managing a forest so close to urban areas.

“I think the biggest challenge is that I’ve not worked on a forest that has significant pressures from living so close to a large population of people. I have been disappointed at the fact that many of our trailheads, our restrooms, our signs have graffiti. We have litter; the signs are shot up,” says Exline. “People really don’t have much appreciation for these public resources; they see them as something to destroy. It’s really unfortunate that a few have to ruin it for everyone.”

The district’s Wilderness Trails Manager Heidi Anderson is always looking for more volunteers for litter removal days she leads into Santa Paula Canyon. They usually collect between 40 and 60 pounds of trash, and about half of that weight is glass.

Picking up bottles and broken glass shards poses a real challenge. It tears through regular plastic bags, so they have to use heavy-duty ones to carry out all the glass. “Somebody with horses gives me these feed bags, so they’re heavier, because I’ve actually had a problem with the glass punching through plastic bags and cutting my leg slightly,” says Anderson.   

The glass ban would still allow people to drink alcohol in the designated forest areas, but people would need to use cans or plastic containers that are lighter and easier to remove. Signs would be installed to let people know about the ban, which would allow forest rangers and sheriff’s deputies to write tickets to offenders.

A glass ban might also benefit endangered California Condors because trash poses one of the most serious threats to their survival. The giant birds are attracted to shiny objects like glass and bottle caps, and have an unfortunate tendency to eat them.

Jeff Kuyper is Executive Director of Los Padres ForestWatch, a charity that leads microtrash cleanup days to help protect the condors. “It would certainly mean less opportunity for condors to pick up microtrash to bring it back to the nest and feed it to their young. We’ll see a decrease in mortality and they won’t have to take them to have it surgically removed,” says Kuyper.

A glass ban would also help educate people about the need to preserve nature and take everything out of the forest, that they bring in. “The message is an important one. When we go out into the forest whether it’s for a hike during the week or to gather with friends over the weekends, we need to be aware of our impact on the environment,” says Kuyper. “It doesn’t mean we can’t have fun when we go out into the forest, but we need to pick up after ourselves and make sure we enjoy the forest responsibly.”


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