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Forest Service officials urge visitors to enjoy the woods responsibly

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | July 13, 2021 7:00 AM

With the summer season in full swing, local officials are seeing more recreationists using, and occasionally abusing, campsites in the Kootenai National Forest.

Nate Gassmann, Libby district ranger, said the forest is seeing more visitors than usual this year. Last summer, hikers hit the trail in droves across the country following the advent of the coronavirus pandemic. While Gassmann said is not sure what is causing the surge this year, he urged recreationists to enjoy the outdoors with respect.

“We’re happy to see people,” he said. “But we definitely want them to take care of their trash.”

Over the past month, Forest Service employees have uncovered at least two egregious cases of littering.

Officials reported a dumpsite last week in the Libby Ranger District. Photos shared on social media showed bins, a folding chair and other refuse scattered near a Forest Service road and campfire site. Officials have turned the case over to Forest Law Enforcement and Investigation.

Earlier in June, employees found an abandoned campfire, garbage and couch near the Fisher River.

In addition to dirtying the forest, illegal dumping can be hazardous to hikers since odorous refuse can attract bears and other wildlife.

Along with the dumping, Gassmann said it appears people have not been adhering to the eight-person party size limit when hiking in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness Area.

The increase in visitors has also made it difficult for many to reserve the forest’s cabins. Although officials open up reservations six months in advance, Gassmann said the sites are often booked up for the season within minutes of going live.

When venturing out into the forest, Gassmann recommends that campers draft a backup plan since they are likely to find other visitors at their preferred campsite. Hikers should bring plenty of water into the backcountry, especially given the recent hot and dry weather. If planning to fish, visitors need to purchase a license from Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Recreationists should come prepared to go to the bathroom in the woods and always pack out anything they pack in. Gassmann noted that proper sanitization is important to ensure sickness does not spread in the woods.

“Take that extra time for ‘leave no trace,’” he said. “Leave it how you found it — if not better.”