Op Ed: Machetes and Bright Orange Plastic Buckets


Op Ed: Machetes and Bright Orange Plastic Buckets

 By R.W. with the Jemez Daily Post

Large numbers of trees are being stripped and girdled in the Jemez.

If it’s not bark beetles, fires, or droughts, it’s us. Not as direct and purpose driven as clear-cut logging or similar exploitative abuses of the natural environment by commercial operations in the near past, but mysterious acts of destruction and spoilage by an unidentified subculture in our midst,  whose motives are hard to fathom.

The forests in the recreational areas in the Jemez are facing strange threats from new trends invented by these visitors. Developing rough new roads off the maintained Forest Roads going deep into the Jemez Mountains, and camping with vehicles in these places as well as on meadows and delicate wetlands is old hat. Immensely destructive and hard to remedy as these practices are, they are at least familiar and can be, generously, understood as public unawareness of the damage that they are causing.

Erik Taylor, District Ranger of our neighboring Jemez Ranger District, experienced at witnessing extremes of eccentric and baffling public behavior in the woods is now faced with dealing with a new and very destructive development.

These new trends require simple technology: machetes, axes or similar sharp instruments, and plastic buckets, available in any hardware store and with a large hole cut in the bottom.

The sharp metal tools are used for the stripping and girdling of numerous trees in and around the most visited sites. This practice has developed over the last year, is very widespread, and is causing the die-off many trees in public use areas. Once the bark is removed from the trunk of a tree, the surface below it dries and dies off, the tree is no longer able to conduct moisture upwards and dies quickly.

It is enough to strip one side of a tree, you don’t even need to girdle it, to kill it.


Since this occurs in a wide circle around the most commonly camped in and visited locations in the forest, the affected trees become a hazard to other users of these places. Dead trees, often thinned at their bases, will soon be falling on campsites, causing injury, possibly death. The Jemez District Forest Rangers are busy assessing the damage and removing trees most likely to soon fall. But the damage is so extensive that the task is enormous, and hard to keep up with.


The tree pours sap over its scar, but it will be to no avail.


All the trees in this picture have been stripped at some point on their trunks. All these trees will die soon.


The plastic bucket phenomenon can be somewhat explained, but I suggest that readers with a delicate disposition read no farther.

It can be assumed that most folks camping in the Jemez normally live in homes, ones equipped with the usual utilities such as bathrooms, and that the life-long practice of using these, often starting early in life and known as potty training, can lead to a dependence in adopting certain postures during the process of, pardon the expression, excretion.

After a hard day’s hacking at pines and spruces there comes a moment when nature calls (from within these beings). This is the moment where the bright orange plastic bucket plays a key role. The toilet-like object is placed, upside-down with the welcoming hole cut in the bottom facing upward. It needs to stand by a tree with some metal hardware nailed through the bark with attachments to hold the bucket in place, and another, very large, nail  in same tree to hold the toilet paper.

The tree is always located on or near the edge of a gurgling stream. This represents plumbing, familiar to any user of a bathroom (running water, you understand. Bathrooms have water that emerges from pipes, forests have streams that run through woods). The bucket user carefully positions himself over the hole in the bottom (of the bucket, of course). When done, the bucket is lifted, the poop can be scooped into the stream (this is obvious, it’s like flushing the toilet) Afterwards, if the user is a hygiene nut,  the bucket can be rinsed in the conveniently close stream before being placed back in the vehicle.


This base of this tree is a favored and frequently used orange bucket site at a campsite.

Erik Taylor has run into both suspected tree strippers and orange plastic bucket users. The encounters can be unpleasant, but usually are not, this is New Mexico and even the weirdest people are generally nice. The tree strippers normally feign innocence and deny; it’s hard to prove that they are the actual culprits among so many recently stripped and girdled trees. The poopers are easier to identify, fresh evidence is usually at hand, but they are baffled at any suggestion of wrong-doing.

He tries to explain that a few hundred feet downstream children are bathing in the very same water that has just been polluted, and that there are communities living downstream, and that there is life in that water, and that people fish in it, and that poop simply does not belong in a woodland stream used for recreation.

We are still in the midst of the summer tourist season, and this year many sites in our area are reporting a record number of visitors. This is great for local businesses and can be gratifying to local residence that our area is so highly valued for its beauty and attractions. The numbers are likely to grow with the establishment of the National Park in the Valles Caldera. But to get the message out about the proper use of and behavior in this natural wonderland is difficult.

There are signs through the forest explaining restrictions, there are rangers and law enforcement officers patrolling the district, but the area is so vast that it is difficult to keep an eye on everyone. If the joys of tree stripping are spread by word of mouth, perhaps similar notions of good behavior in the forests can be spread. Perhaps.

Meanwhile, we can be grateful that there is a concerned body of workers, the Forest Rangers, applying themselves to a task that at least keeps the worst at bay, and that the vast majority of forest users are people who are aware of the beauty that surrounds them and wish it to remain that way, for themselves and for the generations to come.