Friday, July 28, 2006

Where there's smoke, there's cigarette butts

We just got this question from a reader about the Pikes Peak Highway: "I was up on the highway yesterday, and was quite disturbed by the number of cigarette butts I picked up, both at Glen Cove and the summit. I also picked up enough litter to fill a kitchen trash bag out the brush just off the Glen Cove parking lot. What is the highway authority's responsibility for this?"

Three answers: First, the city maintains the private toll road up to the summit, so in some regards, any trash left by users is its responsibility. On the other hand, the road passes through the Pike National Forest, so one might be able to argue that dropped butts in the forest are a federal responsibility. But since neither entity really has the manpower to handle annoyances like this, the truth is that it's our responsibility. If we want clean forests, we have to keep them clean, even if we didn't put the trash there.

I don't know why smokers feel they can toss their butts out of their cars, or on sidewalks, or in the woods, but I also think the fruitless effort to convince them not to do it could be better spent picking the butts up. I find it's particularly effective to wordlessly pick up a butt in front of the person who just threw it.


Zen said...

I cetainly agree that "it" starts with each and every one of us. As the Buddha might say, "when one is enlightened, all are enlightened."

And I agree that it is hard to catch people in the act. But in 2002 the state legislature made throwing a lit cigarette butt on the ground, whether from a car, on a bike or walking punishable by up to a $1000 fine, and for great reason.

In our drought-stricken, fire prone, forested state, this is a very serious issue. There's only one forest to lose on that peak. But the law is worthless if people are not reminded of it, if out-of-staters are not made aware of it, if there is not at least an effort made to stand behind it. But I saw none of that on the peak.

They have plenty of signs for litter, but then again drink cups don't torch the landscape. I for one think the rangers in the ticket booth should at least make it policy to verbally remind visitors of this law, and/or post signs along the first mile of highway pointing out the risk and the fine. And then, when they can, work to enforce it.

Not that these reminders will stop everyone, but often I think it's simply a matter of not thinking, a matter of habit. Sometimes a simple reminder is really all it takes to make a solid dent. And you gotta start somewhere.

As for the highway not having enough staff -- Ha! Staff was absolutely everywhere, like flies in the outhouse. There are a lot of people working along that road. I am sure if they put their minds to it, they could step up enforcement. The question of course is... do they want to? Or like so many other things, will it first take a great loss for us to realize what we have.

Dena Rosenberry said...

I hope it doesn't take a great loss to wake people up. I like the idea of a warning at the ticket booth. Maybe an enlarged photo that shows the Hayman burn area - and what could be.

Haven't been on the highway recently, but was just talking to Deb Acord about the sackful of butts I picked up on my last couple of hikes along Section 16 and Intemann.

I just keep picking them up and hoping maybe if the next smoker doesn't see any, he/she will wait till they're outta the forest to light up.