Where Did Common Sense Go?

Growing up, my parents taught me that you never throw anything on the ground that isn’t meant to be there. Sticks, rocks, or native biodegradable elements (for example, an apple core) were alright. Plastic, paper, or something that might make an animal sick were not alright. Both my brother and I picked up on this naturally and figure out that we shouldn’t be destroying nature at all. Later on, I learnt this was a concept called “Leave No Trace”. I thought it was just common sense.

So, while we’re on this common sense thing, let’s talk a little bit about crime. Generally speaking, most of us are not hardcore criminals. I’m personally guilty of speeding, but to date I haven’t killed anyone, set any public property on fire, stole a car, or really anything exciting. Why? Well, because frankly I’m terrified of the punishments. My biggest fears in life go something like suffocation, drowning, jail, and the dark. I don’t ever want to step foot in jail, nor would I want to try and figure out life afterwards – so simply put: I avoid being a criminal. It’s common sense. However, if someone told me that I could steal the car of my dreams and my only worry was some community service, a fine, and maybe probation, I might feel differently about crime.

Every once in awhile you’ll hear about some moron setting a fire that turned into a raging wildfire, an idiot destroying a national monument, or a moronic artist adding their take to nature. After awhile, the news quiets down and well… nothing happens – until the next time. And then the next. It never ends. Why is that?


The lovely idiots who destroyed a formation at Goblin Rocks.

I suspect new criminals keep popping up because the potential thrill and attention far outweighs the unlikely and inconsistent punishment. For example, on October 11, 2013 two Boy Scout leaders deliberately knocked over a 200-million year old rock formation at Goblin Valley State Park. They posted a video of themselves doing it to YouTube including their celebration. While initially threatened with felony convictions, they ended up being put on probation and being forced to pay fees and restitution. No felonies and no jail time.

So what needs to be done to protect our natural lands from morons?

Education is a big part of it as I learnt growing up. I knew who Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl were, but frankly I didn’t need a cute mascot to remind me to not burn down the woods or dump trash in the river. Mascots and messages like those are wonderful to kids and adults who are willing to be receptive to the mission. We need less “cute” messages to get through the thick skulls of those who are more oblivious. Messages such as “Defacing Public Lands = Jail Time”.

We also need to be more consistent. While doing a bit of research, I came across an article pointing out the inconsistencies regarding persecution for setting wildfires. So far, punishments have ranged from nothing at all all the way up to massive fines and lengthy jail times. If a criminal knows there is a chance of getting away with a crime, it just gives them even more reason to go through with it. What’s more thrilling than playing your luck?

And finally, we need to be more inclusive. Just last week a friend sent me an article with a bunch of theories on why “white people” are the only ones who love the outdoors. Needless to say, the article was infuriating, unsubstantiated, and basically just total BS. However, truth is we need to be way more open about sharing why the outdoors matters to everyone ranging from entitled white girls to immigrants. It is not a “rich man’s” arena as I’ve so often heard or a place only “hippies” love. The outdoors are something that define this country, and it’s up to everyone to keep it safe.

One thought on “Where Did Common Sense Go?

  1. I like your article, and various other articles that have been written about this (AColoradoGirl’s; Modern Hiker, etc.). As I don’t have the time to write my own piece, let me say this in response: first, I support greater punishments for wilderness crimes. However, this is something that will likely take a while to implement due to the system of laws that are in place in the US. Without getting all legal professor here, let me say that the reason different people get differing punishments for the same or similar crimes has a lot to do with where they are arrested/commit the crime. For example, laws in Arizona are different than California, and vice versa. Additionally, if a person commits a crime on Federal Land (National Forest/Park), they are charged under Federal Law versus the law of whichever state they committed the crime in. All of this says nothing about the discretion afforded District Attorneys or US Attorneys when pursuing a plea bargain for a crime; or for a similar crime. I think while tougher punishments are warranted for environmental crimes, its best to pursue a dual track approach, meaning greater public education to avoid crimes, while seeking to strengthen the laws should a violation occur. Just my .02.

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About Jillian Bejtlich

Hey! I'm Jillian Bejtlich. I’m a lifelong New Englander with a serious love of the outdoors, adventure, and a pretty serious inability to sit still. I’m plagued by the travel bug, and it seems I’ll try any relatively sane and safe thing once. My big goal in life: Get people outside!