More People Means More Poop For Public Lands

Aug 13, 2018
Originally published on August 15, 2018 8:19 am

If there's a fee for either a camping site or a day use area on Forest Service land, there's probably some kind of toilet there. But solving the problem of human waste in vaulted or backcountry toilets is not as easy as flushing it out of the system.

Aaron Voos works for the Forest Service in southwestern Wyoming. He said with more people visiting public lands, agencies like his are struggling to keep up with clean and properly maintained restrooms.

"I was just responding to an email from someone who wasn't pleased because of the condition of the restrooms they experienced this last weekend," said Voos.

The Forest Service contracts with private septic management companies to pump waste out of vault toilets. However, Voos said everything else is up to the agency, and that can be difficult to stay on top of with more people visiting Forest Service land.

"Toilets have to be washed," said Voos. And you don't take a bottle of 409 in there, you take a pressure washer."

Right now, he says wildfires are making it even more challenging as fire restrictions are funneling visitors to certain areas.  

"The only place that you can have a fire is in our developed recreation sites, that have a steel fire ring. So campgrounds that aren't typically full, are full right now because people are going there because that's the only place that they can have a fire," said Voos.

Bottom line costs are going up across the board. In Montana, The Missoulian reported that one national forest now spends over twice as much money on pumping waste out of vault toilets than it did in 2013.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2018 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.