One illegal dump site off a gravel road above I-90 was hard to spot because somebody deposited a load of debris over the edge of the road and down a steep slope. (KIRO Radio/Tim Haeck)

The trees have eyes; surveillance in the forest captures illegal activity

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When you walk into a store, step on an elevator or wait at a bus stop, you can expect that a camera is watching. Now, even your trip to the great outdoors could be captured on video.

The Snoqualmie Ranger District covers hundreds of square miles, stretching from the foothills outside North Bend to Mount Rainier National Park. It's the job of U.S. Forest Service officer Jeff McIntosh to keep an eye on things. Obviously, McIntosh can't be everywhere, so the use of surveillance cameras is something of a force multiplier.

"I generally don't put cameras out as a dragnet because I don't have the resources or the time to manage all this stuff," he said. "Generally, it's a very targeted situation where I'm deploying this camera, looking for something very specific."

Vandalism, target shooting, timber theft, off-roading, car prowls and illegal dumping, are big problems in the national forest.

"It's tough to use cameras to enforce dumping unless you have an area that people just seem to dump at on a regular basis." Most dump sites are more random, said McIntosh.

One illegal dump site off a gravel road above I-90 was hard to spot because somebody deposited a load of debris over the edge of the road and down a steep slope. After locating such a mess, McIntosh said the first call he makes is to a volunteer organization such as Friends of the Trail, which will clean up the garbage within days. Otherwise, McIntosh said, the site will attract more illegal dumping.

Illegal downing of timber for firewood cutting is common in the Snoqualmie Ranger District. When he spots trees that have been cut illegally, McIntosh can sometimes catch who did it because firewood cutters will let the trees lie for a few days before returning to cut them up for firewood.

"You can go put a camera on it, come back in a few days and if the wood has been taken, hopefully your camera got a picture of the guy's license plate. Then (you) run the plate, go to the house and interview the guy and you're holding the guy accountable."

Of course, there are privacy concerns. But courts have upheld the legality of surveillance cameras on public lands.

"I've never had anybody call into question my use of cameras," McIntosh said. "This is public land."

Trailheads are popular with car prowlers and another effective location for surveillance cameras, according to McIntosh. Although cameras can identify thieves, they are also hard to hide or disguise and are sometimes also targets for vandalism and theft.

Tim Haeck, KIRO Radio Reporter
Tim Haeck is a news reporter with KIRO Radio. While Tim is one of our go-to, no-nonsense reporters, he also has a sensationally dry sense of humor and it will surprise some to learn he is a weekend warrior.
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