A dirty rural habit: illegal dumping

Prentiss-area farmer Tim Goode is a happy camper when he heads into the mountains to enjoy a peaceful break.

Prentiss-area farmer Tim Goode is a happy camper when he heads into the mountains to enjoy a peaceful break.

But right now he’s not a happy camper about a certain camper — a truck camper that is — sitting just inside his property. The dilapidated piece of junk, with garbage strewn around it for his cattle to check out, was simply dumped there.

Goode doesn’t run a landfill site but you wouldn’t know it. South the of camper is a rotting couch and cushions somebody conveniently disposed of just outside his fence line.

On another piece of his property near a livestock watering hole, somebody has dumped at kayak — of all things.

Goode is among a growing number of frustrated landowners having to cope with garbage illegally dumped on their properties, according to a report featured recently on the CBC National News.

“It’s astonishing what people will do in the woods,” said investigative journalist Harvard Gould, who authored the report Trashing Canada.

Gould is passionate about his findings. “All over this country people will toss almost anything almost anywhere when they think nobody is watching,” he said. “This isn’t mindless littering. This is deliberate trashing of the landscape, the dumping of vast amounts of household garbage, construction waste and much, much more.”

Goode shakes his head in dismay when he surveys the garbage on or near his property. Especially that camper. The choice words he uses are not fit for publication.

He’s stuck with getting rid of it on his own because Lacombe County tells him it’s his responsibility because it’s on his property. So what’s he to do? Use one of his tractors to drag that crumbing mini-home onto county land — like in a ditch? But that might constitute illegal dumping of an illegal dumping.

Gould says: “What struck me, as I began investigating this widespread practice for CBC’s The National, is that this isn’t simply illegal. This kind of dumping is also an offence against what we like to think is part of our core values. It is an enormous contradiction. How can Canadians value (the landscape). … Yet spoil it daily by illegally dumping junk all over the landscape?”

In Central Alberta, we can easily envision the illegal dumpers skulking about down the back rural roads in the dark so they don’t get caught.

But what really irks Goode is that they are brazen enough to do their deeds in daylight as well.

Take the discarded camper, for example. It was dropped off in the summer of 2013 while he was working his fields around 11 a.m. Nothing was there on the first swoop of his property. But when he moved to another piece of his land, then returned, the camper magically appeared. Adding insult to injury, whoever dumped it took time to tether it to Goode’s trees with canvass straps — for whatever reasons.

Then later last summer the kayak appeared. Then a not-so-designer rotting couch and cushions.

Journalist Gould said he “still can’t believe what I found as I worked on this topic. Next to rural roads, I spotted worn-out couches, piles of diapers and all sorts of household goods. And, of course, tires.” Not to mention mountains of beer bottles and cans that could be returned for money.

The CBC report also addressed garbage being strewn about our (once) pristine wilderness areas by slob campers or hunting groups boosting their testosterone levels with booze.

Central Albertans are all too familiar with the mindset that haunts our precious West Country in the summer, especially on long-weekend holidays. ATVs are ripping up the fragile forest floors and destroying tiny trickles of fresh-water mountain streams vital to the survival of trout populations.

Some of those not ripping up the forests with ATVs are busy belting back the booze and leaving a mini-landfill site in their wake.

“I still can’t decide what was the worst thing I saw discarded in the woods,” said Gould. “Perhaps it was the shattered toilet tossed out beside a glistening creek. Or the hundreds of animal bones scattered in the bush (hunting party, butcher shop or massive barbecue, I don’t know).”

And much like a West Country weekend party scenario, Gould discovered “perfectly usable items. A kids backpack. Rope. Expensive ski boots. Pots and pans. Flawless glassware. A volleyball net still in its original box. … When I was in the woods working on this story with my CBC News crew, the sheer volume of what we saw was so overwhelming. …”

Central Alberta rural residents aren’t alone in their frustrations of how these dumping activities can be resolved.

“Local governments all over the country are battling this problem and no one appears able to claim victory,” said Gould. “I found frustrated landowners everywhere. And whether it was in Alberta or Nova Scotia, the problem was the same, with no satisfactory solution in sight.”

The CBC report also revealed a clever method orchestrated by illegal dumpers who can get away with it in mid-day. “Some line their pickup trucks with old tarps, piling the unwanted stuff on top and creating a kind of huge garbage bag. Then, the driver finds a spots and ties the tarp to a tree,” said Gould.

Nothing would appear to be amiss with motorists driving by. Pickup trucks are part of the rural Canadian landscape. But when the coast is clear, the driver simply pulls away while the tarp and junk are left behind for the landowners to clean up.

So why all this illegal dumping?

Simply put, it’s convenient and saves the dumpers the hassle of driving to a landfill site and paying to get rid of their garbage. In the meantime, Goode hasn’t yet decided what to do with the camper. And regarding the kayak, if it’s still there, I have first dibs on it.

Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.

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