Noted With Interest

Noted With Interest

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Can't See the Forest For the Decorations

For the past few years, Christmas decorations -- tinsel, embellished paper plates and shiny CDs -- have begun popping up in the majestic trees lining the highways of the Red Rock country around Sedona, Ariz.

U.S. Forest Service officials have a name for the impromptu ornaments: litter.

Decorating the trees, according to the Forest Service, is done "at the expense of the national forest's wild land and natural character."

"We're not trying to be Scrooge here, but it's to the point that so many decorations are put up that there are a couple of problems," said Karen Malis-Clark, a spokeswoman for the Coconino National Forest.

The decorations typically start showing up over the Thanksgiving holiday. Fifty to 80 trees were decorated last year, down from nearly 200 the year before, said Connie Birkland, spokeswoman for the Forest Service's Red Rock District.

The ornaments can distract drivers, officials said. They also fear small animals could eat some of the materials.

Most of the decorators appear late at night or in the early morning, pulling off the roads in unsafe areas and endangering other drivers and themselves, Birkland said. "Our strategy is to remove the decorations as quickly as possible so that it doesn't encourage more."

Now, the Forest Service is threatening to enforce a federal anti-littering rule that calls for fines of $150 to $5,000 or as much as six months in jail.

Birkland said the Forest Service has never supported decorating the trees but did not enforce the anti-littering rule previously "in the spirit of Christmas."

-- Associated Press

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