Utah vandalism includes spiked trees


In late September a nervous-sounding caller warned a secretary in the Fish Lake National Forest office in Richfield, Utah, that the Deep Creek timber sale had been spiked.

The 66-acre sale northwest of Capitol Reef National Park hadn't generated much controversy, but loggers who inspected after the phone call said they found many metal spikes.

"Spiking" makes trees dangerous to harvest and run through a sawmill. A chainsaw chain hitting a spike can break and fly off, injuring the logger. In the mill, spikes are more dangerous.

"When the sawblade hits the spike it can break teeth off, or even blow the whole sawblade apart, sending shrapnel flying throughout the mill," says Ralph Goddard, law enforcement officer for Fish Lake National Forest.

On the Deep Creek sale, 7-inch-long spikes were driven into trees, and then the heads were cut off with bolt cutters. Goddard says the spikes located so far were driven in high, apparently to spare loggers, who cut close to the ground.

The spiking is the latest in what has been a season of vandalism. A cowboy line cabin on 50 Mile Mountain in Kane County was burned sometime in late July or August, around the same time five cows were found dead in the Paria River drainage, a popular hiking area near Kanab.

The cows were decomposed so badly Bureau of Land Management investigators couldn't determine if they had been shot, but rancher and Garfield County Commissioner Sherrill Ott has no doubts.

"I can't prove they were shot," he admits, "but there's no poison there that would cause them all to die in one spot like that."

In Kane County, within the boundaries of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, vandals cut through cables which collapsed a corral. And the BLM in Kanab reports that a water runoff monitoring device used in studies for the proposed Andalax coal mine was ripped from the ground and destroyed.

"It's getting so commonplace to have sabotage it doesn't seem to excite people anymore," Ott says.

Three years ago five of Ott's cows died after someone fenced off their watering hole, also in the Paria drainage. He's given up grazing cows on his allotment there.

"We've been working to share that land, but they're not willing to share," says fellow Garfield Commissioner Louise Liston. "I've stopped trying to understand their mindset," she says of the vandals.

The Forest Service's Goddard says the community was shocked by the tree spiking because there had only been a dozen letters of protest submitted to the agency.

The timber sale purchaser, Thousand Lake Lumber Company, says it will harvest the trees, taking special care to inspect each tree as it comes in to the mill. It is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the spikers, a figure matched by the Forest Service. The reward, Goddard says, has generated a few phone calls but no substantial leads.

BLM investigators also have little to go on in the cases involving cattle, cabin, corral and water monitoring. Although the Utah Farm Bureau has a standing reward of up to $1,000 for the arrest and conviction of vandals who destroy its members' property, that enticement has not generated any leads either.

Residents of Kane and Garfield counties are quick to blame environmentalists. Environmental activist Ken Rait of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance isn't so sure. "The jury's still out on whether it's environmentalists or someone out to make environmentalists look bad," Rait says.

"We'd definitely like to catch them," says Ott. "But it's just such a big area you can't keep your eyes on it all. It's just becoming a part of life here."

Anyone wishing to report information on the tree spiking is asked to call Forest Service Special Agent Dave Griffel at 801/342-5264.

Anyone with information on vandalism to Utah agricultural property can report it to the Utah Farm Bureau at 801/261-3991.

The writer is a television news reporter in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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