Why people dump in the desert

Freddy Rundlet, health director for the Washoe Tribe, moved to the south end of Gardnerville Ranchos a year ago from Massachusetts and loves the desert.

"I'm the new kid on the block and I'm seeing things people who live here take for granted," Rundlet said. "The reason for coming here is the incredible beauty."

He and his wife take plastic bags when they go for daily hikes in the desert behind their home and return with them filled with trash.

"We see the gorgeous wildflowers, coyotes, and horses with mattresses, TVs and garbage in the middle of it," he said.

"We are caretakers of the land and (according to) the native culture, they have the utmost respect for mother earth - a spiritual belief.

"Most non-natives don't learn to respect the earth and four-legged creatures. We learned to litter. When people are disconnected from the earth, it affects the quality of life."

Rundlet said the broken window theory - that a negative environment begets negative behavior - comes into play when people trash the desert.

"When you're back there (dumping), you may not be the one who throws the mattress out but what you see legitimizes more negative behavior," he said.

Chairman A. Brian Wallace and the Washoe tribal council are aware of the broken window theory and set up an area for a community dump for big items such as refrigerators, tires and furniture as part of a successful clean-up effort.

"Youth, family, elders - rather than stressing on the negative, they put a positive spin on things. 'Strong hearts, strong families.' The name of the overall campaign is 'Think Washoe,'" said Rundlet.

"We ask, 'Is this the Washoe way?' in everything we do - in tribal government and all activities we do."

Rundlet suggests community desert clean-up efforts be part of community service for those who have done wrong.

"Also get the Boy Scouts and other groups to clean up," he said. "It could be fun to be part of a massive clean up."

There are dangers in the desert with all the broken glass and contamination of gun shells all over the place.

Why do people dump illegally?

"We are products of our environment, our parents, what we see," Rundlet said. "People have to spend money to get rid of TVs and don't have a way to recycle. We should make it easy for people to recycle."

He suggested stores have more of a responsibility and include disposal fees in the price of an item.

Rundlet said we shouldn't legitimatize behavior that says it's OK to litter and that we should be responsible for ourselves and the earth.

"It shouldn't be Earth Day just once a year."


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