Phoenix District completes major trash cleanup effort
Story and video by Chris Wonderly, Public Affairs Specialist, Phoenix District Office
Phoenix District staff recently completed a major trash cleanup of the Sonoran Desert National Monument. The monument spans more than 486,000 acres of Sonoran Desert landscape 60 miles southwest of Phoenix and includes three congressionally designated wilderness areas. The last large-scale cleanup of the monument was in 2015. Over the years, trash and abandoned equipment related to illegal border activity accumulated in remote areas of the monument.
A district-wide team worked together to accomplish the cleanup. “This was the definition of collaboration across all field offices and programs, including fire, park rangers, law enforcement, and maintenance,” said Acting Administrative Officer Hawk Thul.
Before the two-day cleanup operation, law enforcement, maintenance, and park ranger staff made several trips to the monument to locate, bag, and organize the trash to make it easier to remove all at once. One cleanup site was in the Table Top Wilderness. The large amount of trash in the wilderness was affecting the natural environment and visitor experience. To determine the least impactful method to remove the trash from the wilderness area, the BLM completed a Minimum Requirements Analysis, and determined a helicopter was the preferred method. “These areas are very difficult to access, even by foot,” said Acting Field Manager Katie White Bull. “Having support from our fire helicopter made this cleanup possible.”
The Phoenix District’s Weaver Mountain Helitack Module, based in Wickenburg, provided staff and helicopter support to remove trash. During the two-day cleanup operation, the helicopter carried fire personnel to collect and prepare the trash for removal by helicopter. Since the area south of Interstate 8 is a known smuggling area, law enforcement staff provided security at the cleanup sites and helibase.
The helicopter sling loaded nets with trash bags to the helibase where the trash could be loaded into trucks. It also removed an abandoned ATV that would have been nearly impossible to remove any other way. “This came off better than I dreamed it was going to,” said Phoenix District Chief Ranger Jake Szympruch. “I think we got 2,800 pounds of trash plus the ATV.”
Now that the removal is complete, BLM staff will continue to monitor activity on the monument to see what changes occur in coming years.
When you enjoy your public lands, you can help keep our public lands clean. Pack out your trash and leave no trace. When visiting the monument, be aware that the southern part of the monument is a corridor for drug and human smugglers. Be alert for illegal activities and law enforcement operations.