SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK, AZ (Tucson News Now) - If you walk along the trails in the Saguaro National Park or look closely at the sides of roads as you drive by you may notice something other than nature: trash.
Park representatives say that litter is a growing problem.
They say they typically find wrappers, plastic bottles, and plastic bags littered along the roads and in the outer areas of the park. The trash problem has grown to be such an issue that park employees are now asked to pick up trash if they see it on the road coming to work, and researchers in the park typically carve out an extra hour to clean up trash along trails before they begin their work.
Park rangers say the research teams spend a lot of time picking up trash within the first couple hundred feet of major roadways when they are on projects where they are supposed to be collecting resource data.
RELATED: Saguaro National Park
The trash in the park is a problem with a domino effect. Not only does it harm the plants in the nearly 100,000 acres of Saguaro National Park, the trash also is killing animals.
Desert tortoises eat trash because they mistake it for their food, which is also brightly colored.
"You might be tossing out a Snickers wrapper thinking it's no big deal but that desert tortoise might be ending its life as a result of it," Cam Juarez of Saguaro National Park said.
Juarez says park employees see the trash repeatedly in the same areas and often it's the same trash. They have seen everything from beer cans to batteries and cell phones. As much as the park appreciates the volunteers who come to pick up trash and who work to keep the park clean, there's something else Juarez wants people to do to help.
"We primarily want to address the issue which is getting people to understand that these are their national parks, so we hope that habits change. We don't toss out the cigarette butts, we don't toss out empty beer bottles," Juarez said.
A person caught littering in Saguaro National Park is liable for a fine of $5,000 or six months in jail.