Harvesting the truck farm 

It’s a familiar eyesore for many tribes—wrecked and abandoned vehicle carcasses strewn across their reservations. But Blackfeet tribal officials are tackling the problem of junkers on their 1.6-million-acre reserve. They purchased a crusher earlier this year to flatten the metal hulks and recycle them as scrap metal.

“There’s just a phenomenal number of junked cars around,” observes Robert DeRosier, the tribe’s public works director.

A partial survey of the reservation documented about 3,500 junkers. DeRosier says the total number is probably closer to 5,000. He adds that most residents can’t afford to have the vehicles hauled off when they’re no longer useable. Now the tribe is offering to come to their property for free, load up the cars and take them to a boneyard in Browning. All that’s needed is an owner’s signature on a release form.

Several hundred junkers have been pancaked in recent months. Wrecked vehicles can fetch about $70 a ton at recycling markets in Canada, Seattle and Utah, and DeRosier says older-model cars often weigh a ton apiece. About 30 of the metal masses can be hauled on a single semi-truck load. Rail transport is also being studied.

DeRosier says Glacier County officials loaned a loader and an operator to help get things started. The used crusher was purchased with a $40,000 loan from the tribal housing program. “Once we can get the program going, I think we can be a self-sustaining deal,” DeRosier explains. “Hundreds of people have signed up to have their cars hauled away. We have requests coming in all the time.”

According to DeRosier, one area resident has 75 old vehicles on his property, which likely puts him first in the most-cars category. Not only are junked vehicles unsightly, they’re also a public-safety hazard. DeRosier says children can get trapped inside; the wrecks become home to rodents which can spread hantavirus and other diseases; they attract garbage; and they can leak toxic fluids into ground and surface waters.

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