***Note: this bill has been substituted, this analysis may no longer be valid***
It’s a routine sight in Utah’s state and national parks to come across vandalism, both spray painted graffiti on man-made structures and initials or drawings carved into trees and rock faces. But vandalism in Utah’s parks took on a whole new meaning last October, when two Boy Scout leaders, David Hall and Glen Taylor, filmed themselves laughing as they pushed over a 20 million year old “goblin” rock formation in Goblin Valley State Park.
When the video that they published on Facebook went viral, there was immediate outrage across the country.
Though Hall and Taylor were brazen in their actions, it was not an isolated incident. Some estimates say there have been over 9,000 cases of park vandalism around the country in just the past five years.
Law enforcement and legislators were stymied in pressing charges against Hall and Taylor, however, because there is nothing in Utah law to specifically address defacing natural formations or growth. Current laws allow the state to prosecute for criminal trespass violations if visitors damage man-made property in state parks, but there is nothing that would address the intentional damage to natural occurring formations. Adding to this problem, current criminal trespass laws allows the offenders to be fined for up to three times the value of the destroyed property, however these laws do not provide guidelines on how to determine the costs of damage to a naturally occurring feature such as the destroyed “goblin.”
HB 68 – Protection of State Park Resources from Representative Dixon Pitcher (Republican – Ogden) seeks to close these loopholes.
The bill begins by expanding the definition of what is protected by the Division of Parks and Recreation by defining a “Division Resource” not only as a man-made structure, but also a “geological area, site, feature, or formation.”
When trying to determine the value of what Hall and Taylor had destroyed, law enforcement were stumped—though the population agreed that the Goblin Valley formation had value, there was no legal way to define that value as the rock formation has no immediate commercial value.
Dixon’s bill changes code to outline exactly how damages will be calculated. His formula would take into account not only the monetary value of the items damaged or destroyed, but also the cost to repair damage, and the costs of administrative, expert evaluations, and any staff times or resources used in the investigation. Additionally the bill calls for any damages estimated at over $1,500 to be treated as a third degree felony. Adding to vandals woe, if they have previous convictions of vandalism under Dixon’s bill, each additional conviction will be prosecuted as a one degree higher felon (a third degree felony becomes a second).
If it becomes law, Utah will not only be able to collect damages, but as part of any criminal conviction a defendant would be responsible for “any costs incurred by the division in any enforcement proceeding, including attorney fees, costs, and reimbursement for time spent by a division employee on the enforcement proceeding…” This bill does not prevent the state from pursuing civil action, either. If the state so chooses, it would be able to reimburse itself for any court or restoration costs.
Currently, Hall and Taylor have been charged with criminal mischief, a third degree felony punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and five years in jail. Dixon’s bill would allow the state to seek additional reimbursement charges associated with the repair of natural structures.
The need for the bill is apparent. Though Hall and Taylor could be punished for their actions, there is no mechanism in place to truly repair the harm they caused to a natural wonder. Furthermore, though the state chose to charge Hall and Taylor with felonies for their overtly egregious and self-congratulating vandalism, criminal mischief evidence may not be so apparent—whereas criminal trespass and vandalism is. By increasing the penalty, the state would send a strong message that the destruction of our natural wonders will not be tolerated.
To contact Representative Pitcher, click here or call 801-476-8080.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker