Littering a disgrace on the San Carlos Reservation

Birds and animals, including some cattle, pulled bags out of a dumpster and opened them up, scattering trash and litter around the campgrounds at Point of Pines Lake.

Photo by Don Martin

Birds and animals, including some cattle, pulled bags out of a dumpster and opened them up, scattering trash and litter around the campgrounds at Point of Pines Lake.

Last week I wrote in this column about my recent experiences while hunting spring turkey on the 1.8 million-acre San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in central Arizona. The reservation is home to some of the best hunting in the western United States. And it has some of the most spectacular scenery found in Arizona.

That is the good news.

Now here is the bad.

I was absolutely disgusted by trash and litter I saw not only scattered throughout the forest, but around what I call the crown jewel of the reservation, Point of Pines Lake and recreational area. This site is visited by many during the year. It is located one and a half hours away from the community of San Carlos, which is home to many of the reservation’s residents.

In the past, when friends and I have hunted near Point of Pines, we stayed in the campground there. The scenery is outstanding, turkeys could be heard in the forest, and angling was good at the lake. Unfortunately the down side was that litter and restroom facilities there are something one might find in a developing nation.

After one trip I wrote a letter and sent a packet of photos to both the Tribal Chairman and Tribal Council outlining the deplorable conditions. This after my friends and I picked up 12 large bags of trash in the campground area alone and delivered them to the tribe’s Game and Fish headquarters. I got a letter back from one Council member thanking me for my input and promising to look into the matter.

The next year, when we returned, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was obvious that much had been done to take care of the issue.

Then I went back this year, and, to put it bluntly, it was horrible. Understand that I was there over the Easter weekend; a time when I estimated over 1,000 plus visitors, 99 percent of them tribal members, were enjoying themselves at this site.

Tribal members were doing the traditional things that a lot of families do at this time of the year. There was of course an Easter egg hunt, picnicking, cooking, barbecue, volleyball, fishing, hiking, and bike riding activities all going on. It was as it should be – a festive time when people were enjoying themselves with friends and family.

As I drove through the area, I noticed that people were being mostly diligent about putting trash in either receptacles that were placed throughout the area or in bags. I even noted a few porta-potties there, which considering the condition of most of the very old restrooms, were a welcome sight.

When I drove away that afternoon, I was actually impressed with most of what I had seen. People recreating responsibly, and taking care of the trash and litter.

Then I went back Wednesday morning, and was shocked at what I found.

One large trash dumpster, which when I left Sunday was full of bagged trash, had trash scattered all-around it. It was obvious that the animals in the area, which included skunks, ravens, and probably a bear or two, along with a herd of white-faced cows, had pulled the bags out of the dumpster and opened them. There was trash scattered everywhere.

Trash, including disposable diapers, was seen next to the restroom facilities. Some trash cans were overflowing, with trash and litter around them. A group of cattle was seen wandering through the campgrounds, nosing around a few of the trailers that were still there.

I wondered why tribal officials had not planned to have a trash truck come up Monday after everyone had left to pick up the trash and refuse that had been left. It seems so easy to resolve this issue with some timely planning.

Once again I am writing a letter to the Tribal Chairman and Tribal Council officials explaining what I saw there. I am a guest on the reservation, a paying one at that, and once more I picked up trash and litter as I drove around the reservation and through the Point of Pines campground.

As a conservationist that is what we do, no matter who owns the lands we recreate on. But tribal officials must recognize their responsibility to ensure the health and welfare of not only tribal members and nonmembers alike, but also to the sacred lands they call home.

Hopefully in the future, I will see that the tribe does a lot more planning to ensure that both tribal members and non-tribal members alike will continue to have a quality outdoor experience on some of the most beautiful lands in America.