Desert Dumpers: Officials working to clean up, deter people from tossing trash

Just one of the piles of trash on the desert north of Grand Junction along 25 Road.

Spent shotgun shells litter the desert north of Grand Junction on BLM land along 25 Road.

A couch and overturned love seat sat artlessly arranged, overlooking a desert arroyo filled with soft-drink cartons, cardboard boxes that once contained toys for toddlers, plastic bottles, pellet-punctured aerosol cans and some surprises.

Not exactly surprises, however, to Frank Stapleton, a Bureau of Land Management ranger who tugged on a pair of rubber gloves after spotting something interesting in an overstuffed plastic bag spilling its contents out into the dust.

“This is far from my favorite part of the job,” Stapleton said as he gingerly poked into the bag in search of more evidence that would link the trash overlooking the arroyo to whomever left it there.

Sure enough, the miscreant had left a clue as to his identity.

“There’s an invoice in there, so we’ll probably get an arrest on this,” Stapleton said.

The plastic bag contained more than grimy paper. Marijuana stalks brittled by the arid desert heat stuck out of the bag as well, hinting at the likely background of some of the other material scattered nearby.

Some heavy black plastic, a silvery vent tube, some Styrofoam and other materials suggested that the trash dumper was getting rid of materials used to grow marijuana.

That’s nothing, comparatively speaking, to the methamphetamine-manufacturing trash rangers find on too-frequent occasion.

The kinds of desert debris run the gamut: old televisions and other household appliances, propane bottles, paint buckets, welding-gas bottles, tires, the list goes on, up to and including five 5-gallon buckets of human waste left to foul the desert landscape.

“There’s a perception that there’s no law out here,” said Christopher Joyner, spokesman for the Grand Junction Office of the BLM.

There might once have been no law west of the Pecos, but north of Interstate 70, it’s a different tale.

Dump trash in the desert and Frank Stapleton will hunt you down.

Stapleton is one of a posse of BLM rangers who work the desert and they are of a single mind when it comes to trash: No warning tickets.

He’s issued 19 dumping or littering tickets since joining the law enforcement staff in May.

Not all the scofflaws leave their calling cards in the form of invoices, receipts and other identifiers, but that isn’t necessarily an impediment to investigation.

Officials are working a case using DNA evidence, Joyner said, noting he couldn’t elaborate because the investigation is continuing.

Desert dumpers, however, frequently make the investigations easy.

Take, please, the owner of a hot-water heater dumped just off 21 Road. It had been blasted, plinked, pounded and left to rust, but its serial number was intact, leading Joyner to suspect that its owner could be tracked down and ticketed using that bit of information.

He took a photo with his smartphone, marking the beginning of the process of identifying the owner.

A Grand Junction man, Henry Bostelman, 29, is being held without bond (on charges unrelated to dumping) in the Mesa County Jail after he was stopped on Oct. 14 by Stapleton in the process of blasting television sets in the desert near 34 and C roads.

Trash cases are a constant for the Grand Junction federal court petty-offense docket and most dispositions include cleanup requirements and fines, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer said.

Run-of-the-mill trash — paper, plastics, household junk and the like — often is cleaned up with relative ease by volunteers or organizations.

Hazardous waste, however, is a different matter, Joyner said, noting that the blasted remains of television sets contain hazardous materials, such as lead and other heavy metals.

Cleanups of that variety, which also can include the human waste left to stew in the desert, are considerably more difficult and expensive, Joyner said.

Desert dumping defies explanation, Joyner said, noting that in many cases, dumpers appear to have expended a great deal of effort to ditch trash that could have been dropped off at the Mesa County landfill for about $5.

Given that, said Joyner, “I don’t know what they’re thinking.”

Judging by their gift for furniture arrangement, probably not feng shui.


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