Home Local & Regional News Lassen National Forest Seeks Public’s Help in Eliminating Bootleg Latrines

Lassen National Forest Seeks Public’s Help in Eliminating Bootleg Latrines

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An illegal latrine from a photo provided by Lassen National Forest
An illegal latrine from a photo provided by Lassen National Forest

With fishing season opening weekend and the start of the camping season, Lassen National Forest wants to remind visitors of the importance of practicing Leave No Trace principles while enjoying your public lands. This is especially important when disposing of human waste.

Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid polluting water sources and spreading disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), on average each person on the planet creates approximately 1 pound of solid human waste per day. More than 100 types of bacteria, protozoans, and viruses found in human feces are capable of causing illness.

“In light of these statistics and the popularity of dispersed camping locations on the Forest, we ask visitors to take care in how they dispose of their human waste,” said Megan Mullowney, recreation and lands staff officer at the Almanor Ranger District.

Latrines and catholes are two commonly accepted practices for disposing of human waste when camping outside developed campgrounds in areas without restrooms. These methods are acceptable alternatives, but there are guidelines visitors should follow to prevent impacts to water quality, natural resources, and public health. When determining a site for your latrine or cathole, Lassen National Forest urges visitors to follow Leave No Trace guidelines:

  • Deposit solid human waste in cat-holes dug six to eight inches deep, sited at least 200 feet from water, campsites, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Depositing human waste under rocks is not a good idea because the rock inhibits the moisture and heat that aid in decomposition.
  • Toilet paper and hygiene products are litter and should be packed out. A plastic bag confines odors effectively. Toilet paper should not be burned. This practice has resulted in several forest fires.
  • Latrines should be dug 200 feet from any water source, campsite, or trail. Dig a trench six to eight inches deep and long enough to accommodate the needs of your party. Use soil from the trench to cover the feces after each use. Dispose of toilet paper by packing it out in a plastic bag or burying it at the bottom of the trench.
  • Naturalize the site before leaving; scatter duff, pine needles, and sticks on top of the filled hole.

The rationale for latrines is to concentrate the waste in one properly located place, thereby reducing the risk of water contamination and accidental direct contact. Unfortunately, by concentrating human waste, decomposition rates are greatly reduced. This gives animals time to find, dig up, and scatter the remains, which in turn increases the chance for human contact.

Moreover, if not properly sited, latrines have a high potential for causing water pollution.

Finally, they are frequently overfilled, making it difficult to cover them properly when they are finally closed. For all these reasons, latrines have generally fallen out of favor in many areas. They may be appropriate, however, when staying in a specific area with a large group (approx. 10 or more) for a long time, when camping with small children, or when camping with a group that may not have the necessary skills to properly site, dig, and use a cathole. Keep in mind that length of stay, location, age of group members, backcountry skill level, and time of year all factor into deciding if a latrine is appropriate.

“Please do not construct long-term latrine facilities using items such as plywood, toilet seats, and five-gallon plastic buckets,” said Mullowney. “These bootleg latrines are considered improvements that require a special use permit to occupy National Forest System lands.

“We’ve located many of these latrines throughout Lassen National Forest, and all were much closer to the water then they should have been. Not only does the human waste pose a potential contamination problem, but the plastic buckets, toilet seats, and human waste left behind are unsightly.”

Visitors who elect to construct these bootleg latrines latrines without a special use permit may be subject to a violation notice and a fine not to exceed $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, imprisonment up to six months, or both (36 CFR 261.10(a)).

Lassen National Forest thanks you for helping keep our public lands and water sources clean and safe for everyone to enjoy.

For more information, contact Lake Almanor Recreation and Lands Staff Officer Megan Mullowney at (530) 258-5165 or mcmullowney@fs.fed.us.

Some of this information is copyrighted by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and has been reprinted under special agreement. For more information on Leave No Trace, visit www.LNT.org.

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