View Full Version : Taking things from the side of the road

07-30-2009, 02:01 PM
Possible yard projects and an overheard conversation at work has me wondering... Is it against the law to take rocks or dig up plants from the side of the road? I assume it is, but I'm curious what kind of laws would apply. Not talking about private property, but state/federal land.

I drive through the Columbia Gorge between Washington and Oregon nearly every week, and there are large rockslides all along the highway. I've never actually seen anyone loading rocks into a truck or car, but I assume it's happened before.

And a couple days ago, I heard someone at work talking about a friend who is always looking for interesting plants along the side of the road to dig up and plant in their own garden. Again, something I've never seen, but I assume it happens.

I don't plan on doing any roadside "gathering" for a number of reasons:

1) I assume it's illegal. I don't currently have a criminal record, and prefer to keep it that way.
2) Who knows what kind of critters and/or weeds you might take home? I'd rather get my rocks and plants from a reputable source.
3) I drive a Honda... I can only put 50 lbs of stuff in the trunk before the rear end bottoms out.
4) Taking rocks from the bottom of a rockslide seems like a good way to end up with your own entry on the Darwin Awards website.

But I'm still curious: What laws would apply to this in your particular area?

Thanks! (And sorry this isn't a more interesting question).

07-30-2009, 02:26 PM
Check the laws in your state regarding transportation corridors & rights-of-way. In this state, the only thing in the right-of-way or corridor that belongs to the owner of the road/right-of-way is anything to do with the "viatic use" (i.e., transportation-related) of the road/corridor.

Everything else in the right-of-way/corridor belongs to the adjacent land owners, divided along the centerline of the corridor/right-of-way. Cutting trees, taking shrubs, even clipping flowers off of shrubs within a right-of-way or road corridor is both civil & criminal trespass in this state, which at the least is a misdemeanor and can be a felony depending upon circumstances. State & municipal highway departments need to have adjacent landowner permission to cut or trim trees adjacent to or even in the ROW of a road; while they have a right to do so to preserve the viatic use of the corridor, the tree still belongs to the adjacent landowner and therefore the adjacent landowner gets to decide if they want to keep the wood (firewood, etc.) or let the DOT haul it off. The only exceptions are when the utility has outright ownership of the corridor, therefore breing a landowner per se and therfore owning all rights beyond merely viatic rights. In these very old states that predate the current country by 170 or so years, outright ownership of ROWs is actually rare; probably not so on your end of the continent.

In this state, even power companies need permission from each landowner along a powerline ROW to trim the trees adjacent to the corridor, that being another form of right-of-way.

Taking rocks? Not my jurisdiction, but I would assume that the same rules apply as rocks are not germaine to the viatic use of the corridor and therefore most likely belong to the adjacent landowner.

Just because a road is a state or federal highway does not mean that that branch of government owns the land under or adjacent to the ROW - they may only hold an easement for viatic purposes, leaving all other uses to adjacent landowners. You will actually need to check the ownership circumstances for each particular ROW if you are interested in picking rocks/plants along a ROW.

07-30-2009, 03:46 PM
If everyone dug up plants and took the rocks alongside the roads, our country would look like ****.

07-30-2009, 05:52 PM
In AZ, theft from roadside right-of-way is theft of state property. Lots of folks have tried stealing the Saguaro cactus from the right of way. The state actually has a "Cactus Cop" to investigate all cactus thefts.
And believe it or not, the Saguaro Cactus (the one with the arms, the state symbol) is Federally Protected under the Convention on the International Traffic in Endangered Species (CITES, pronounced si-tees). I arrest a guy smuggling cactus ribs, and he got 3 years in prison!

(What are you in for? Dope. Kidnapping. Bank Robbery. Smuggling cactus ribs?)

07-30-2009, 06:04 PM
Good. A lot of Arizona's character would be lost by people taking all the cactus.

07-30-2009, 06:54 PM
Thanks for the responses so far.

Nessmuk - Interesting that it's a trespassing charge in NH. I would have thought more along the lines of theft, like Sleuth said it would be in AZ.

Sleuth - I've read before that the Saguaro are protected. Three years for smuggling ribs? That'll teach 'em.

True, if everyone took stuff from the side of the road, a lot of the scenery would suffer. Just wish people would stop leaving their own stuff along the side of the road. Old tires and fridges don't really do anything for the ride through the Gorge, but I'm getting off topic in my own post.

Thanks again!

07-30-2009, 07:12 PM
That guy had 499 of them - I had to count every one. He paid $50 in Mexico, could sell them in Tucson for $5+ each.

This is the only plant on CITES - guys used to go out in the desert and knock them over with their jeeps, let them die, and take the ribs.
There was some poetic justice about 10 years ago. Guy & his girlfriend rammed a Saguaro, and about 2 tons of cactus fell into their jeep, killing them both. A little payback from Mother Nature, who does toss some chlorine into the gene pool from time to time.

07-30-2009, 07:49 PM
You realize how much cactus sell for in other parts of the country? It's like the new copper theft ring going along...sheesh...

07-30-2009, 07:50 PM
What I've learned today: Cacti (cactuses?) have ribs.

07-30-2009, 09:54 PM
They actually get fatter during our monsoon season when it rains, and then slowly get thinner during the dry seasons. The flesh fills out betwen the ribs.

I'm no expert, but we all carry multitools, to get the thorns out. If you can't see them, use Elmers wood glue - spread it on, let it dry, pull it off.

Desert survival - not like downtown survival, suburban survival, or winter survival, but all part of officer survival. Welcome to my world!

07-30-2009, 10:47 PM
Thanks for the responses so far.

Nessmuk - Interesting that it's a trespassing charge in NH. I would have thought more along the lines of theft, like Sleuth said it would be in AZ.

Most theft & other trespass charges here have to be proved "knowingly", whereas timber trespass (criminal) must only be "recklessly". For damages (remuneration to the owner is 3 to 10 times the value) in civil timber trespass, the mens rea only need be "negligently".

1042 Trooper
07-30-2009, 11:45 PM
It's illegal even to stop on a controlled access roadway unless directed to do so or in the event of an emergency. Don't do it.

07-31-2009, 09:45 PM
From the California Street and Highways Code:

730.5. Any person who by any means, without a permit issued by the
department, digs up, cuts down, destroys, prunes, trims, or otherwise
injures any tree or shrub on any state highway, rights-of-way, or
property shall be liable for a penalty in the sum of ten thousand
dollars ($10,000) for each tree so damaged and one thousand dollars
($1,000) for each shrub so damaged; and the department, in the name
of the people of the State of California, may recover the penalty in
an action at law, in a court of competent jurisdiction, together with
the costs and expenses, including attorney and expert fees, incurred
in the action and the actual costs incurred because of the damage to
any tree or shrub on state property.