Conservation officers report litter on Minnesota roadways, waterways
Weekly activity reports from conservation officers (COs) with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are littered with evidence of various types of refuse being discarded along Minnesota roads and waterways.
"We're seeing everything from wooden fish house blocking materials on lakes to old appliances in roadway ditches," said Col. Jim Konrad, DNR Enforcement Division director.
Littering is a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000.
Konrad said the DNR wants everyone to keep roadways and waterways clean by properly disposing of used materials with their local refuse haulers or at their local landfill. Konrad added that litter tarnishes nature's beauty, destroys wildlife habitats and ruins many opportunities for recreation.
Minnesota's fish house removal deadlines are March 5 in the southern part of the state and March 19 in the north, and spring cleaning is soon to get underway around many households. That's why conservation officers make a concerted effort this time of the year to monitor and identify possible problem areas.
CO Jeff Humphrey of Cromwell just completed a litter investigation where numerous bags of household trash were dumped along a rural road. The contents were revealing.
"In this case they made significant effort to remove labels with names and addresses from their garbage, but I found a child's name on a piece of homework and a wrist band from a local hospital," Humphrey said. "A few phone calls and I identified my suspect."
The reasons for their actions were likely economics.
"They said they did not have garbage service and usually take their garbage to their employers to get rid of it," Humphrey said.
Sometimes a citizen helps a CO solve a litter case. CO Jeff Johanson of Osakis recently issued a citation to a man caught on a trail camera dumping waste on private property.
The individual was always very careful about removing items with any sort of identification on them. Finally, the property owner had had enough, put up a trail camera, and was lucky enough to get a guy and his vehicle on the camera littering.
"With the electronic evidence, the interview went pretty smoothly and the guy admitted to it right away," Johanson said. "I made him clean up the waste and issued him a citation. Of course, he knew nothing about the countless other times things were dumped there; must have been somebody else."
Sometimes the litterbug is just a phone call away.
Last year, Johanson found a bunch of garbage and fish house blocking material left on the ice after an angler removed his permanent fish house.
"One of the fish house blocks was a piece of wood that said: 'For Sale – call . . .' Well, I called and got a confession from the litterbug."
Officers also use technology to catch litterbugs.
“While on patrol any fish house that had litter outside or had cardboard skirting the edges of it was photographed and GPS (Global Positioning Statement) coordinates taken,” said CO Matt Frericks of Virginia.
“Excuses like, ‘I was going to go get that later’ will not work. Anyone who leaves garbage on the ice will receive a citation for littering,” Frericks said.
Conservation officers also have solid waste civil citation authority. These civil citations are “by the pound” or “by the cubic foot” penalties. Since they are not criminal charges, they don’t require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The person suspected of littering must pay the penalty and clean up the mess.
The DNR offers the following tips to keep Minnesota roads and waterways clean:
• Set an example for others, especially children, by not littering.
• Properly dispose of any materials that could trap or injure wildlife.
• Check with a local refuse provider or landfill for disposal of household items.
• Keep a litter bag or trash container with when traveling or outdoors.
• Secure trash container covers to prevent wind or animals from spreading litter.
• Cover and secure any vehicle, truck or trailer carrying refuse.
• When visiting any recreation area, make sure to leave the area clean for the next person to enjoy.