Teen parties create headaches for Forest Service
While area law enforcement officials hold that teens drinking and partying in the woods is illegal and unsafe, the Tahoe National Forest’s Truckee Ranger District has even more concerns.Jeff McCaskill, a fire prevention technician, and Susanne Jensen, the off-highway vehicle specialist, both work for the Truckee Ranger District with the U.S. Forest Service. And both deal with the results of kids camping and drinking in the woods.”These parties are happening in areas that are ‘restricted use’ as per forest order,” Jensen said. “There is no camping allowed and no fires allowed inside our restricted-use areas. So these kids are having fires in areas that they’re never allowed, any time of the year, whether there are fire restrictions or not.”McCaskill agreed that the danger of such fires getting out of control is one of his primary concerns. “From my vantage point and my standpoint, the biggest problem is if a fire isn’t put out completely, it has the opportunity to … start a fire later on in the day, the next day or the following day,” he said. “In my line of work that’s something I need to deal with on almost a daily basis.”
Other factors, McCaskill said, are the messes left behind by partyers.”Any one of these party sites that you go to are usually just littered with garbage everywhere – from paper to cups to bottles to broken bottles. And that stuff doesn’t just go away, it sits there for years and years and years.”Environmental damage at teen party sites is not limited to litter either. Both McCaskill and Jensen have seen trees chopped down to fuel bonfires, stumps and rocks spray-painted with graffiti and/or directions to the party, and extensive damage done to meadows and other sensitive areas by vehicles belonging to partygoers.That all adds up to a blight on the natural state of the forest that the ranger district doesn’t have the manpower to deal with.”I get paid to put fires out and to keep an eye on what’s going on in the woods; not to pick up garbage and put out fires that people are leaving behind,” McCaskill said. “That’s kind of another issue I suppose in the whole matter that the taxpayers are paying for us to clean up these areas.”
While the cleanup costs are often born by taxpayers, kids found violating Forest Service restrictions can be assessed hefty penalties. According to Jensen, one illegal campfire can garner separate fines of $270 for having the fire in the first place, for attending an illegal campfire, for not having proper clearance at a fire, and for leaving a fire unattended.In addition, camping fines can be as much as $100 per night and vandalism fines can range from $150 to the total value of the object defaced. For example, a 24-inch diameter tree that is chopped down would be worth approximately $500.Fines, however, are only a deterrent. If U.S. Forest Service personnel actually catch people at a party site – a rare occurrence according to McCaskill – they then can send a strong message.”It’s hit or miss. I catch kids early in the morning sometimes, but in most cases we’ll find a hot [fire] ring with a bunch of garbage,” McCaskill said. Jensen said the district staff is familiar with where the the parties are occurring “and we’ve been trying to work with our local law enforcement agencies because we can’t be out there all night long.”
While the Forest Service may be understaffed to deal with all of the parties that will go on in Tahoe National Forest, that doesn’t mean that Jensen and McCaskill won’t be out patrolling on nights they hear of parties taking place.”When we have word that it’s graduation, prom night, or stuff like that, we’ll put people on night patrol. And they’ll do their best to discourage any kind of assembly out in the woods,” Jensen said. “They start partying pretty hard a couple of weeks before graduation, so we know it’s party season this whole next month. It’s every weekend, and sometimes during the week.”The problem is not limited to local kids either. Teenagers from Reno also make use of areas around Boca, Prosser and Stampede reservoirs as well as numerous sites off of Forest Service road 06 to drink and hang out.According to Jensen, parents need to get involved to help solve the problem. And, Jensens said, she does not buy the argument that kids in Truckee have nothing to do at night in the area but drink and party in the woods.”I would like to see the parents more responsible for their own kids,” Jensen said. “If [parents] want to set their kids up for a weekend in one of our campgrounds, and they can get together and have an alcohol-free party and stay in a campsite, that’s what I would recommend,” she said, adding, “The bottom line is: These kids want to drink. And some of the parents think that that’s OK.”
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