Volume 105, Number 32 - August 7, 2008
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Are Rainbows really cleaning up?
LANDER, Wyo. (AP) — A forest ranger says he's concerned about the possibility of lasting damage to Bridger-Teton National Forest after some 7,000 members of the Rainbow Family gathered there in June and early July.
The Rainbow Family has a reputation for picking up after itself. Some participants stick around doing remedial work for weeks after the gatherings. Rainbow Family members said they stand by their practices.
Even so, District Ranger Tom Peters said he worries about lingering scars.
“It is cleanup,” Peters said. “But it certainly is not rehabilitation by any stretch of the imagination. And it is not re-naturalization, which is a term they use and I'm not really sure what that means. But it is cleanup. I would describe it as cosmetic cleanup. They're taking out the trash.”
He said the Rainbows' strategy so far has been to collect garbage and otherwise “cover things up.”
“They're covering their compost pits with a little bit of soil, which could attract bears,” he said. “They've covered up slit trenches without really cleaning anything. They've covered up fire pits with branches and trunks of trees. These folks interchangeably use 'cleanup' and 'rehab,' and they like to use rehab, but based on what I'm seeing, it's not rehab.”
Peters also said the group didn't follow an operating plan for the gathering. He said one example was a fire pit that was 42 feet in diameter and dug four feet deep in the center.
He said typical rules for fire pits on national forest lands are to make rings no more than 10 to 12 feet in diameter and not dig them into the ground.
“I was told they put watermelon rinds underneath, and put soil on top and then placed pine needles and lodgepole pines on top, and placed on top of that dead and downed materials like needles and pine cones from the forest,” Peters said. “It's really nothing more than covering things up.” One Rainbow participant who has helped clean up previous gathering sites said the procedures Peters described are not simply cosmetic — rather, they serve a few functions, not the least of which is promoting regrowth of vegetation.
“The basic procedure is to break it up and re-level the area, and if necessary you seed it. But the new seeds don't take until the rains come,” said Sue Bradford of Missoula, Mont.
Bradford spent about a week at this summer's gathering. About 30 participants stayed on afterward to clean up the site.
Bradford said the reason for scattering downed trees, leaves, pine needles and branches over the fire pits is to prevent cattle and other forest users from setting up there and trampling the area before it regrows.
“The duff retains moisture and is full of local seeds, and it prevents the ground underneath from drying out, and it also helps it blend into the landscape,” Bradford said.
“It's just like mulching your garden. The natural mulch is the forest litter under the tree canopy.”
Peters, though, said the gathering could make it easier for invasive plant species to become established and outcompete native plants.
“Thistles, for example, move into disturbed areas,” Peters said. “It's not a native plant, but it outcompetes the plants that are native. And we want to manage the forest for native plants.”
He said forest officials will monitor for invasive plants in the area in coming years.
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