Refuge officials crack down on graffiti

Refuge officials crack down on graffiti

WICHITA MOUNTAINS WILDLIFE REFUGE, Okla._Graffiti at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is on the rise, and now wildlife enforcement is asking for your help to crack down on violators.

Investigators say unlike most vandals who want to show off their work in highly visible areas, these vandals are targeting secluded areas. The most recently targeted location is an area known as the Forty Foot Hole, where two large images were spray painted on two sides of a boulder.

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is considered one of the most beautiful places in all of Oklahoma. One of its most scenic destinations is the Forty Foot Hole. But now as you come to the top of the canyon of the Forty Foot Hole, the natural view is tarnished with graffiti.

"Taking the remote hike to this place, and getting there and seeing it defaced is certainly what we don't want," said Matt Belew, a law enforcement officer for the US Fish and Wildlife department.

According to Belew, graffiti at the refuge has picked up in the past few months and is drawing more concern.

"We don't typically have the graffiti this large scale," said Belew.

And with so much area to cover and the difficult terrain, Belew says he has no choice but to turn to the public for help.

"We want the residents of southern Oklahoma and north Texas to realize that people are coming out here defacing their property," he said.

Even if you don't know who's doing it, if you see it, report it. Belew says many times officers don't come across the crime themselves.

"There's been several instances like this that we did uncover only after people that witnessed the crime came forward and reported it," he said.

The maintenance workers do their best to clean up the graffiti, but as you can see, even when the graffiti is washed off, the rock will never be the same.

"The chemicals they pour on there, for the next 100 years you can tell something was on there," he explained.

And while the graffiti in some cases is isolated to a small area, he says it's only a matter of time before it gets out of hand. It starts off small with one person writing their name, then eventually it's a whole wall. And in one case, a home in the refuge that has historical value was defaced with names and spray paint. Recently, crews did their best to remove it.

"The person that comes out to the wildlife refuge with a spray paint can to paint graffiti on the rocks or other features of the wildlife refuge is not coming out here for the right reasons," he said.

Some people may think that graffiti, or even writing your name, at the wildlife refuge is harmless, but it actually holds a penalty of up to a year in jail and/or a $100,000 fine.

In an effort to address the growing problem, the National Wildlife Refuge created a hotline where you can report these crimes.

You can call them at 1-844-697-8477 or e-mail them at nwr_tips@fws.gov. As a reminder, this is a national hotline, so you'll have specify which refuge you're reporting.