"You look at these piles and think we'd be able to catch these folks," says Don Mikel, a Forest Service ranger in Sault Ste. Marie. "But with nights, weekends, the huge territory, thin staff . . . it's very hard to do."
Hart, based at the Forest Service office in St. Ignace, is more blunt: "It's like hitting the lottery."
Although catching people in the act is rare, officers sometimes get tip-offs. Or they might sift through a garbage bag, find a bill with someone's name on it, confront the person and win a confession.
Fines for illegal dumping on federal land range from $250 to $5,000. On the state level, a law enacted two years ago authorized fines ranging from $100 to $5,000 plus additional civil penalties, such as impoundment of vehicles used for illegal dumping by repeat offenders.
The law is to expire next year, although the Legislature is considering a bill to make it permanent.
In the long run, the answer is to educate people and change their attitudes, Wilson says. That's the goal of the Michigan Coalition for Clean Forests, which brings together state and federal agencies and groups representing business, environmentalists, law enforcement and others.