Family learns expensive lesson about protections in national forests

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PHOENIX - Tradition runs deep in the Gunston household.

For the past three decades, the family has memorialized the birth of their children and even a pet, by carving their names in Aspen trees west of Flagstaff.

"We love it, this is something we thought the kids could remember, we could always go back to and take pictures," Rachel Gunston said.

But from now on pictures will be the only reminder of this ritual, because as Rachel and her husband found out, carving anything into a tree at a national park is illegal.

"We were totally shocked we just couldn't believe it," Gunston said.

On 4th of July weekend, while the Gunston's were busy chiseling their youngest son's name with a pocketknife, a park ranger ticketed them for destruction of a natural resource, a fine that comes with a $325 price tag.

"When I got home and Googled it the only thing I could find was that idiot laws where it was like in the same category as if you steal soap, you have to use it, and you can't park you're donkey in a bathtub," Gunston said.

Gunston said after all these years, she had no clue her family was doing anything wrong and judging from the Aspen stand, it appears as if she isn't alone.

"People have been doing this kind of thing for many, many years but that doesn't mean it's okay," said Jackie Banks a spokesperson for the Kaibab National Forest.

Banks said you are dead wrong if you think carving into Aspen trees isn't a problem.

In fact, she said decades of defacement have helped lead to the death of more than half of all lower elevation Aspens in the past ten years.

"So people don't think it's a big deal but it truly is and what you may consider to be a memento, someone else may seriously consider it a defilement of nature," Banks said.

But Banks admits many people caught cutting into Aspens aren't aware it's against the law.

"And it's important for them to know that because not only is one person's art another person's graffiti, but also you end up with a tree that could be very susceptible to disease and infestation, and could die," Banks said.

While the Gunston's say they aren't happy about being an example, they do plan on paying the fine.

"I don't want any trouble so I'd probably just pay it and be done," Gunston said.

And they hope their $325 ticket teaches you a lesson, a lesson that what you don't know really can hurt you and in this case your environment too.

Banks tells 3 On Your Side many of the forest's Aspen stands are being fenced to keep deer from eating new tree sprouts.

Right now, there are no plans to put up any signs telling people not to carve.

The reason is Banks said many signs they put up end up being used for target practice.