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Thread: LF hikers, do you remove plastic tree ribbons?

  1. #1
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
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    LF hikers, do you remove plastic tree ribbons?

    Over the past few years, plastic ribbons have proliferated on tree branches in the PNW.

    Orange, pink, blue – they’re fluttering in the wind and I’m curious about your views.

    Maybe you use them, remove them, ignore them – or a combination?

    Drive down any FS road in the N. Cascade or Olympic forests, you can’t miss them. There they are, adorning roadside trees. Often, they tell someone (or told someone long ago): “Turn here, down this spur road!” Many times, the tree doesn’t wear just one ribbon, but several – it's garlanded in a rainbow of colors, decorated by many people over time, burdened by plastic never removed.

    More annoying, of course, are ribbons deep in the forest, next to hiking trails, serving a similar purpose.

    And not just next to the trail, but off trail too – even in designated wilderness areas – presumably tied to a branch by someone who wants to return the same way, marking a path in a pathless wood, like Hansel’s bread crumbs. But unlike crumbs, plastic ribbons have a special talent for hanging on branches or scattering across forest floors for years, decades, longer. A perennial eyesore. An ecological menace.

    Last autumn I came upon a group of USFS workers removing their own ribbons. Earlier in the season, they tied them to trees as a forest management tool. The ribbons had served their purpose. The workers were now collecting them “to be used again,” they said. Bravo, I thought, with a healthy dose skepticism.

    -----
    Please share your attitude about this ever-growing forest blemish. Have you seen more and more ribbons in your region too? Do you use them for LF work? If you see a ribbon, do you think “trash” and remove it? How do you determine if they should remain in place?

  2. #2
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: LF hikers, do you remove plastic tree ribbons?

    They're there for a reason, either trail maintenance supervisors telling workers what to trim, especially if a tree is considered hazardous, or pointing field biologists to a certain perimeter under study. I've never seen hikers per se doing this in order to leave a trail of breadcrumbs. But of course, up in the high country one encounters lots of little stone piles or "ducks" which can potentially lead you to the same lost spot as the person who first made them. Even what we term designated Wilderness in this country is formally managed to a degree, trying to keep trails maintained and safe. But FS and utility crews having marking techniques along roads per se is almost an industry of its own at this point in time, after all our extreme fires. People are finally beginning to wake up. Lots and lots of downfall removal and susceptible limbs being cut; it's almost like a post-war scenario in some place, like pre-war in others.

    But locally the various Park jurisdictions seem to keep plastic flagging usage conservative, and clean up after themselves. I paused and talked to a number of workers on a trail out at Pt Reyes just yesterday. They're outdoorsmen just like us, official NP employees making summer money for a degree or whatever, and care about the quality look of the land quite a bit. Not so with many of the fly-by-night subcontracted brush removal crews I've seen elsewhere in the State - sometimes they leave behind a worse fire hazard than the one they were supposed to mitigate.

  3. #3

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    Re: LF hikers, do you remove plastic tree ribbons?

    Personally I have no patience for people putting ribbons on trees. Only exceptions I accept are for forestry use, surveyors, and the temporary marking of a proposed hiking route, and I'm sure that there are also other valid reasons for putting ribbons on trees. Rock climbers are purest, I have never seen a rock climber mark the start of a route with anything. Personally I ignore them because in most cases I don't know why they were put there in the first place. Many years ago I came across a "trail" of them at the bottom of a mountain. Later on I found out that they marked the route that rescuers used to find and then carry out an injured hiker. Of course now GPS replaces ribbons like those.

  4. #4
    Tin Can's Avatar
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    Re: LF hikers, do you remove plastic tree ribbons?

    I just eat the breadcrumbs, the flags are not edible

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  5. #5
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
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    Re: LF hikers, do you remove plastic tree ribbons?

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Here's a typical trailside ribbon ... with no clear purpose.

    When I see a ribbon like this, my patience runs thin like Greg's.

    And my inclination is to remove it.

  6. #6
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: LF hikers, do you remove plastic tree ribbons?

    Rock climbers can be some of the worst of all, and leave behind all kinds of trash in popular spots, scars on the rocks, and all that damn chalk (in some regulated areas, only colored chalk matching the rock is allowed). Rope burn marks from rappelling off sandstone arches in the Southwest, leaving scars potentially lasting centuries. Broken delicate geological features from even well-known nature-photographing climbers scrambling atop them. Booze bottles left behind in cracks in the cliffs. No category of outdoor usage is entirely slob-free. Who ya kidding?

  7. #7

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    Re: LF hikers, do you remove plastic tree ribbons?

    It depends on context.

    I belong to a longstanding local trail running group. When we do planned but informal runs, we rarely use trail markers. For organized races, which also draw some non-locals less familiar with the trails/roads, we mark the course a day or few before. We use ribbons tied to clothespins (easy to attach/remove) at important junctions. At the end of the race, someone sweeps the course to check for any remaining runners and removes the ribbons. Leaving no trace is of course part of the requirements of our permits from the Forest Service (and we do have special use permits).

    However, sometimes a "helpful" person comes by during the two or so days that the ribbons are up and removes some of them. This is obnoxious and can result in lost runners going far off course. I think often the people who do this are motivated by annoyance that other people are using "their" trails, more so than simply cleaning up, and the disruption is intentional.

    So while I find the visual clutter of excessive flagging annoying, I don't remove ribbons unless I can be pretty confident that they have outlived their purpose. If it's old and tatty, it can typically go, but if it's fresh, there is probably some reason for it. Of course, if a ribbon is along a drivable road, it's not in pristine wilderness, though still visual clutter and maybe litter.

    Rock climbing forums are full of people arguing about the impacts of chalk and bolts and old "tat" (climber term for nylon slings and such left at anchors).

  8. #8
    (Shrek)
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    Re: LF hikers, do you remove plastic tree ribbons?

    In my experience, the arborists and forest service people etc use spray paint, not ribbons. I won't remove a ribbon unless it's in my shot. Inukshuks, on the other hand...

    Last time I went hiking with my wife and a LF camera was somewhere near Perce, in the Gaspe peninsula. We hiked an hour or so to a well-known waterfall in the backwoods. There was a group having a picnic, a caricature of French Quebecois haute culture, they were literally wearing berets and having a picnic of baguette and a bottle of red wine. And they had made 3 or 4 of these stupid little piles of rocks in the beautiful stream I wanted to photograph. I waited til they left then waded into the stream and kicked over all the little piles of rocks they had made, much to my wife's amusement. Cultural appropriation, I told her. They obviously weren't Inuit and had no business leaving their graffiti all over the landscape.

  9. #9
    Tin Can's Avatar
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    Re: LF hikers, do you remove plastic tree ribbons?

    Damn hippie artists have long despoiled the perfect stone

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  10. #10
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: LF hikers, do you remove plastic tree ribbons?

    The New Age types have done some horrible things around here. I photographed a stunning old growth redwood stump in a lesser known grove that had no doubt looked the same for centuries, went back a year later, and there were "energy" signs and similar nonsense carved into it. More of the same elsewhere in the area. And yes, some phony cave art showed up in an overhang recently. ... But that link you just posted, Tin Can - its more likely its author was the one oxygen-deprived when he wrote it.

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