Removing graffiti could violate Wilderness Act.


Mar 11, 2001
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Removing graffiti could violate Wilderness Act.

By Beth Wohlberg, Daily Camera Staff Writer

In a place supposedly "untrammeled by man," a hiker found a graffiti-covered boulder last week.

The name "Roman" and the initials of the person he loves are emblazoned in green spray paint on a rock in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near the Fourth of July campground. It's startling to come upon the 18-inch-tall letters — not because it's in the woods, but because it's in the wilderness, said people familiar with the area.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness partly as a place untrammeled by man that "generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable." It further restricts activities that are obvious signs of human presence, such as motorized vehicles and man-made structures.

So in an effort to eliminate this imprint of man — or perhaps juveniles, according to a witness account in the sheriff's report about the graffiti — forest service officials are in a bind.

"Because it is a wilderness area, we wouldn't use some of the same equipment we might use in other areas," said Paul Krisanits, law enforcement officer with the U.S. Forest Service.

Sandblasters are out — wilderness rules restrict the use of mechanized equipment. Turpentine and other chemicals are out — forest service officials don't want to kill native vegetation growing on the rock or around it. And scrubbing with a Brillo pad might just be too labor-intensive.

"It's a very interesting philosophical question," said Suzanne Jones of the Wilderness Society in Denver. "Do you violate the Wilderness Act in order to fix a violation of the act?"

Jones explained that the Wilderness Act is flexible about vehicle use and other activities when it comes to search and rescue efforts, firefighting and controlling insects and disease. But the "minimum tool" philosophy — using the least impact — is supposed to be applied at all times.

Wilderness managers just need to decide what is the least amount of impact for the task they need to perform. If the graffiti is offensive enough or the damage bad enough, managers might determine a sandblaster is the only way to remove the paint.

In this case, forest service officials believe spray painting over the graffiti in a neutral color is better than trying to remove the damage.

"We have to think, 'Is the removal going to cause more of a concern than if we just put more spray paint on it?'" Krisanits said.

Fortunately for managers, graffiti isn't a huge problem in wilderness areas. This is the first time Jeff Charlebois of the Indian Peaks Working Group, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of the area, has heard of an object being defaced in designated wilderness.

Krisanits said other Forest Service land is vandalized more than wilderness areas.

"As far as Indian Peaks, graffiti is, thankfully, rare," he said.

Contact Beth Wohlberg at (303) 473-1364 or
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