Vandalism Rising in National Parks and Nature Lovers are Fighting Back

Park rangers have been horrified to discover that someone has been vandalizing the iconic saguaro cactuses in Arizona’s Saguaro National Park.

Not only is the sight of at least 45 graffiti tags painted or carved onto cactus leaves an unsettling sign of urban life creeping into the wilderness. Saguaros grow slowly — some can be 150 years old — and rely on the green skins of their leaves to store chlorophyll, by which they take in nourishment from the sun. People who think it’s “cool” to paint their names on the saguaros’ leaves are in effect starving the cactuses.

A recent increase in graffiti on public lands and national parks in particular may be connected to the rise in the use of social media, says the New York Times. Vandals have not only been damaging precious wildlife and ancient sites, but have then taken photos and posted these on the Internet.

Rangers are also reporting a rise in vandalism in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Utah’s Arches National Park and Joshua Tree in California. “In the old days, people would paint something on a rock — it wouldn’t be till someone else came along that someone would report it and anybody would know about it,” says Lorna Lange, a spokesperson for Joshua Tree. But now people have a way to broadcast their defacement of nature far and wide, and instantly.

Parks have had to close certain areas such as Colorado’s Rattlesnake Canyon, a popular hiking spot, to protect archaeological sites and native art. Cleanup costs to remove graffiti can run into the hundreds and thousands of dollars; it is not that parks whose budgets have already been cut have such extra resources.

Park Rangers and Nature Lovers Know How to Use Social Media, Too

What gets posted on social media sites is out there for anyone, including park rangers and those of us who cherish our parks and the flora and fauna in them, to see as well.

In 2011, two South Korean exchange students visiting El Morro National Monument in New Mexico wrote “Super Duper Dana” and “Gabriel” on Inscription Rock, alongside where 19th-century soldiers and pioneers had etched their names. Rangers did a little detective work in the visitor center sign-in book and found that someone had written  “Dana Choi” and “Super Duper Dana Choi” there. They found that Choi and another student, Seung Hoon Oh, had posted pictures of their trip to the park  on Facebook. The two students eventually admitted to what they had done, pleaded guilty to violating a federal law protecting archaeological resources and were fined nearly $15,000 each.

Park personnel have also been able to catch vandals via infrared cameras. While these are set up to record wildlife, they have helped officials learn that Beau Campbell and Colton Salazar had chopped up cactuses and left them beside a trail in Coronado National Monument in Arizona. Rangers retrieved photos of the two men from the camera and sent these to websites and Tucson-area news stations, which posted the photos. Campbell and Salazar turned themselves in and have been charged with violating federal law.

These instances of tourists behaving very badly are not, of course, limited to sites in U.S. national parks. The parents of 15-year-old Ding Jinhao from Nanjing in China recently apologized after a photo of  the phrase “Ding Jinhao was here” (in Mandarin), etched into a 3,500-year-old relic inside Egypt’s Luxor temple, was posted on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. The image soon went viral, leading to the family’s response and prompting reports of Chinese tourists’ poor manners aboard, to the point that Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang criticized his own citizens for their “uncivilized behavior.”

It is terrible to think that surveillance cameras might have to be installed throughout national parks to protect cactuses, rock formations and other beautiful natural sites from someone’s ugly actions. As the summer vacationing season gets underway, it is not only Chinese travelers who need to know that, wherever you are, “uncivilized behavior” is totally uncalled for and that, yes, there are plenty of us nature lovers out there who are glad to protect our parks and the wildlife in them.

Photo via Seth Sawyers/Flickr


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago

I always try to leave places the way I find them (or even better),

Fiona Dudley
Fiona Dudley4 years ago

It's not just tourists. I live close to a popular trail in the mountains. Trails have switchbacks for a reason - to stop erosion and destruction of plants and habitat. Every year the damage done by people and dogs taking "shortcuts" straight down the slopes makes me cringe because I know exactly what plants got destroyed in the process.
What do we have to do - trails with electric fences on both sides?

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla4 years ago

What the hell!!! That doesn´t even make sense!

Marilyn M.
Marilyn M4 years ago

I am so ashamed of the human race. All we do is destroy, abused, maim and kill all that is beautiful and natural. I use to live in Tucson and went to the parks often. I love the Saguaros, they have such a history. It takes 20 years for one to grow a foot. Shame, shame, shame.

Mary L.
Mary L4 years ago

So close the parks and put cameras all over so people can see but not touch. Sad but what elese can be done?

Clara Hamill
Clara Hamill4 years ago

Make them clean it up and if they don't reform ban them from all parks.

Heather W.
Heather W4 years ago

This makes me so mad....I go to National Parks every year, FOR THE BEAUTY of it....I hope the idiots doing this get caught and slapped hard with a fine and then some. I am headed to 3 Parks this year, these vandals better be watching their backs.... I WILL TURN YOU IN !!!!!!!!!

Mitch D.
Mitch D4 years ago

Taggers have ZERO respect for themselves, their lives, their families, and their communities... and I for one would like to beat the shit out of these a^%holes.

Jen Matheson
Past Member 4 years ago

Thank you to those fighting back!