There ought to be a law

by Terry Riley on December 28, 2005

Actually there is. In fact, there are thousands of laws on the books designed to prevent people from behaving badly and to punish them if they do.

There are laws to deter the big offenses: robbery, kidnapping, murder, terrorism. There are laws to discourage less corporal but still nasty wrongdoings like larceny, embezzlement, and extortion.

Farther down the list of transgressions are less harmful behaviors like soliciting and public intoxication. Near the bottom of infractions are such things as jaywalking, fishing without a license, removing the manufacturing labels from pillows and operating a leaf blower before 9 o’clock Sunday morning. (If there isn’t a leaf-blower law, there should be.)

Somewhere among this range of offenses are ones that I, as an outdoors vacationer, find particularly egregious. I raise this subject because I witnessed many of these disgraceful offenses on a recent trip to a national park. There, amid what should have been the wonders of nature, I instead found the wickedness of humans. From trash at the scenic overlooks to graffiti carved into 200-year-old trees, I was sickened.

I am now proposing new sentences for miscreants who are captured and convicted of defacing, desecrating or otherwise mistreating our national heritage. Here are some representative crimes and my proposed penalties.

Littering (even a single cigarette butt). Two weeks in the slammer followed by 2,000 hours of community service cleaning campground garbage bins.

Graffiti. Since these lowlife perpetrators like to paint, they should, after a six-month prison sentence, be assigned for a year to the road-striping crew. Their job: long, straight, sometimes broken, yellow lines.

Tramping protected areas. Those who beat up on fragile plants and animal habitats should be required to tend to the patch of land they trampled, assuring that it remains unmolested for … oh, let’s say a couple of years. That means being on-site the whole time — no breaks, no vacations, no leaving the property.

Feeding the animals. One year in jail being fed an unhealthy diet — one that is high in fat and processed sugar, low in fiber and organic nutrients. Oh, wait! Most perps are already on that diet! So how ’bout this: Offenders clean up the scene and dispose of the carcasses of animals that have been killed by cars while they were looking for handouts from people.

Carving into trees, picnic tables, benches, etc. Perpetrators should meet the same fate as their victims. A nice arrowhead-shaped scar (like the National Park Service logo) seems appropriate. On the forehead would be good.

Two more behaviors that are not yet punished by law — but ought to be — need to be addressed. The first is failure to control the loud and bratty behavior of children. The punishment for the first offense might be a warning and probation, but subsequent offences should be dealt with harshly. A third strike should result in continuous exposure to William Shatner singing (?) “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” from “The Transformed Man” album.

The other behavior in need of correction is the use of cell phones during guided ranger talks and while on any hiking trail. Punishment for violations should be swift and firm. My recommendation: immediate dismantling of the phone by any nearby citizen. (By the way, if you, like me, think that cell phone use should be controlled in the national parks, you can sign a petition sponsored by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility to restrict the spread of cell coverage.)

Now, I know what many of you are thinking right about now: “Riley, these penalties are not nearly severe enough.” I agree, of course, but I thought a softer approach might rally more support.

Wait ’til I get really mad.

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