Throw the book at the Yosemite vandals


It’s a crime against nature, a crime against our country and a crime against a particular city, all scribbled into one.

The vandal (or vandals) who desecrated Yosemite National Park with graffiti cannot be allowed to get away with a light slap. Not if we want to send a message to those who think it’s okay to treat our public lands like an abandoned warehouse near train tracks.

Last month’s marking of the Upper Yosemite Falls trail, revealed Sunday by park officials in a call for social media to help them identify those responsible, is just the latest example of a glaring trend for which it does not appear. have serious consequences – aside from a few spoonfuls of public shame.

Under federal law, vandalism of a national park is a misdemeanor punishable by three to six months in jail and up to $5,000 in fines. Which sounds like a pretty rigid deterrent, provided it’s fully enforced.

Except that doesn’t seem like the usual case. Those responsible for high-profile graffiti incidents in national parks tend to get off more easily than their crimes deserve.

Casey Nocket, a young woman posted under the alias ‘CreepyTings’, received a two-year ban from 524 acres of US public land plus 200 hours of community service and two years probation for defacing rock formations in seven national parks in 2014. In 2020, a Canadian identified only as “Steve” paid a fine after confessing and apologizing for tagging several sites in Death Valley National Park.

Based on recent incidents at Zion, Joshua Tree, and Pinnacles, as well as several California state parks, the appalling trend only seems to be spreading.

Making an example of who is responsible for marking granite boulders at some 30 locations along the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail is as good an opportunity as any to nip this blatant in the bud.

Fortunately, the vandals left many clues that should help investigators find them. This is where the conversation starts to get uncomfortable for one California city in particular.

If you’ve seen the photos posted by the park service, you know this one.

I have to admit, seeing “Fresno” and “559” spray painted on those rocks made my head drop in shame. (Even more so after spending the previous week rafting 188 miles down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, which remains remarkably pristine despite heavy use.)

It’s crazy like a moron with no respect and a few cans of spray paint are enough to tarnish the reputation of a city of 540,000 people.

But at least Fresno can take comfort in knowing he’s not the only one. Marking is a universal scourge.

It’s true that humans have been writing and carving their initials in scenic spots for centuries. However, most of these occurrences predated the concept of public lands. So when someone spray paints a rock in a national park, that rock doesn’t just belong to some faceless government agency. It belongs to all of us.

That’s why the Park Service should throw the book on the Fresno tagger(s) who violated the Yosemite Falls trail after finding and arresting them. Because if they don’t, more people might get the misconception that Americans like their national treasures spray painted.

Marek Warszawski is a columnist for the Fresno Bee.

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