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Flying excrement: Forest service uses helicopters to remove human waste from North Cascades

October 5, 2018

With the hordes of hikers, climbers and other outdoor recreationist receding from the North Cascades, a less scenic, although just as important, activity starts.

Removing human excrement.

On Sept. 26, U.S. Forest Service personnel, with the help of Wilderness Rangers, Climbing Rangers and wild land firefighters, among others, hauled thousands of pounds of human waste out of the Enchantments in the North Cascades via helicopter.

Nineteen vault toilets were flown out of the backcounty. Each 40-gallon toilet was full after a season of use. The vault toilets are used in areas where the ground is too rocky to dig a cat hole or a pit toilet.

“The Enchantments are incredibly popular and only seem to attract more folks every year,” said Charles Martin, a Climbing Ranger in the Wenatchee River Ranger District. “Human waste follows closely. Rangers take toilets very seriously. We maintain the structures, swap the vaults, clean up the accidents and dig the holes. We frequently bury waste that has been improperly deposited onto the ground and clean up ‘flowers’ of toilet paper along the busy trails.”

About 20 people were involved in the operation. The 19 vault toilets were removed from the Colchuck Lake area and the Core zones. Throughout the summer, rangers empty three to four of the toilets, Martin said.

Toward the end of the season, a full removal is needed.

The toilets were flown to the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery’s helipad and a local company pumped out the human waste. The rangers took the empty toilets to a storage facility where they will stay until next season.

The Enchantments and nearby areas have grown increasingly popular over the years. Although a tightly controlled permit system limits overnight use of the Enchantments, human impact is still visible.

This summer, Carly Reed, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest wilderness manager, said wilderness managers have seen increased use in the Enchantments and nearby areas such as Ingalls Lake.

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