The state Department of Forestry is asking Clatsop County for help in addressing abandoned vehicles and trash left behind from homeless camps on forestland.
During a county Board of Commissioners work session Tuesday, the department’s Astoria District presented the challenges and costs associated with cleaning up and removing vehicles, RVs and trash.
Since 2019, the state has spent more than $50,000 on cleanup costs. So far this year, nearly $10,000 has been spent cleaning up two sites.
Ty Williams, the district operations coordinator for the Astoria District, said the department started budgeting for cleanup costs in the past two budget cycles. He said the increasing costs are becoming unsustainable.
“Not only is this illegal practice unsightly, but it brings with it a possibility of contamination to soils and streams,” Williams said. “There’s also a risk to our employees or the recreating public from dirty needles and other contaminants. During certain times of the year, there is also a fire risk from this behavior.
“This problem is not unique to just ODF. Many of our fellow forestland owners, as well as communities around Clatsop County, have seen an increase in this type of vandalism and negative behavior.”
Williams said the department has worked with the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office forest patrol deputy to identify problem areas and contact people living in the woods, but he said one deputy is not enough.
Sheriff Matt Phillips said it is also difficult for deputies to enforce rules and keep track of people because of the guidelines for camping on forestland. People can camp at a location for 14 days in a row in a 35-day period.
“These are symptoms of a bigger problem,” Astoria District Forester Dan Goody said. “But I can tell you personally — in fact — the majority of the people we’re talking about know the rules as good as anybody, and they know when day 14 is up, they’re moving their camper to another spot up a different spur to start the clock all over again.
“They get lost on the radar and they get found somewhere else miles away, and the clock starts again. So they’re playing it. And this is a subset of a bigger problem with some homeless communities in the forest, whether it’s in the city of Warrenton ... or by Mill Creek in the east end of town.”
Williams and Goody suggested the county work with the state in creating a multiagency impound yard to dump vehicles and RVs. There is some waste Recology Western Oregon in Astoria does not accept. They also asked the county to consider adding more forest patrol deputies to the sheriff’s office.
“I think it’s a growing problem,” Commissioner Lianne Thompson said. “I think it’s a problem related to people being responsible. So are people irresponsible because they don’t know any better or because they can get away with it?
“But then there is enforcement of consequences. So we have problems all the way along. Maybe we need to look at state law. Maybe we look at county ordinance. A concerted community response is required.”
Commissioner Mark Kujala, the board’s chairman, said, “My experience just in Warrenton alone — seeing a lot of these encampments on private forest lands and the stolen property that goes with it and the needles and the real hazards — it’s something that we’ve got to find some solutions for, and be creative in doing so.”