From the November 2002 Idaho Observer:

Montana monkeywrenchers increase pressure on USFS signs, gates, locks

by The Idaho Observer

The Daily Interlake, a dominant daily newspaper from Kalispell, Mont., reported October 31, 2002, that, “...gate vandalism on the Flathead National Forest [FNF] has been on the rise this year.”

The newspaper reported that Earl Applekamp, road engineering and maintenance director for the FNF, claims there has been a three-fold increase in the number of locks that have been pried, broken, shot or cut away. Applekamp claims that over 60 locks have been vandalized so far this year.

Damage to gate swing arms and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS)'s signs are also becoming more and more common. Last year Applekamp reported some 300 incidents of vandalism in the FNF. He believes the number is probably about the same this year.

The problem seems to stem from the fact that the wilderness areas of Flathead county's 5,099 square miles, 70 percent of which is “owned” by the USFS, are becoming the nation's largest gated communities. According to a report published by the state of Montana, of the 2,104 roads in the FNS, 1,910 have closed by gates or made impassable with permanent Kelly humps made by federal bulldozers.

Outdoor recreation, which has become the mainstay of the region's economy since mining and logging have been regulated out of existence, is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, snowmobiling and other motor sports are no longer allowed in 91 percent of the county's public lands -- except for a few extremely over-used areas which are expected to close soon so the USFS can “repair” the human damage.

Vandalism to USFS signs and gates, which is not confined to the Flathead and has actually been on the rise throughout America, is being conducted in the spirit of the Monkey Wrench Gang characters from Edward Abbey's 1975 book of the same title. The Monkey Wrench Gang, led by the fictitious George Heyduke, conducted a humorously destructive campaign to derail the Lake Powell Project in Arizona.

Applekamp was quoted as saying that incidence of vandalism in the FNF is, “.probably up about 15-20 percent above an average year.”

Applekamp estimated that the cost of vandalism this year is over $65,000 and that replacing the road sign pictured will exceed $2000.

He also said that repairs come out of the FNF's forest road maintenance budget, which is probably in his department's best interest since each year he has fewer roads to maintain. The monkeywrenching will, however, have a positive impact on USFS surveillance budgets. The Daily Interlake reported that Hungry Horse District Ranger Jimmy DeHerra is planning to “beef up” monitoring and enforcement and is also planning to offer rewards to people who tell on members of the public who vandalize public property that keeps the public out of public lands.

Flathead Forest Law Enforcement officer Billy Stewart encourages people to get good descriptions of individuals and their vehicles if they witness vandalism of USFS property and to report the incident to the nearest ranger station.

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