Yak pack on fast track to bushwhack blowback

The yaksmen and their herd in the Arcata Community Forest. Submitted photo

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – It was nice while it lasted, the glimmer of goodwill projected by the two two-legged creatures among the five who live together in the Arcata Community Forest. A recent encounter with the infamous "yaksmen" and their animal companions went famously, with a passing bicyclist enjoying fresh milk and cordial conversation offered by Tom Vanciel and Sam Sanchez on Trail 13.

It was a hopeful harbinger of better relations between the woolly wanderers and other forestgoers, but alas, it seems the Yaksmen's Mobile Debating Society has reverted to form – a regression to the mean, in more ways than one.

Environmental Services Director Mark Andre said his department is being inundated with complaints from those who've had unpleasant interactions with the hollering herders, who, in classic form, are "yelling and blocking the trail." Women in particular are uncomfortable around them. The complaints are referred to APD, which is also getting calls.

"There are tons of complaints," Andre said. "Regular forest users' encounters are getting scarier."

Vanciel, the alpha of the two, has explained that he and his animals are on a spiritual journey, likening his approach to that of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Among other things, he asserts that the "totalitarian police surveillance state" manipulates the populace via community water fluoridation-based mind control. The two resided for a time in a house on K Street, at which they attempted to form an animal-based homestead exempt from societal conventions and constraints.

Since then, the two men and the yak, goat and cow with whom they roam the Earth have been spotted in numerous locations in the Arcata Community Forest and neighboring private lands, including the Forsyth Property which the city is soon to acquire. Sometimes the animals break loose and must be rounded up.

Last week, a city worker attempted to pinpoint the yaksmen's current encampment by tracking hoof prints and tufts of yak fur left on trees. Andre said forest workers are routinely yelled at by Vanciel, who bellows "squatter's rights!"

Various sections of the Arcata Municipal Code and Land Use Code aren't compatible with untethered animals roaming and grazing in the forest. Andre said training of pack animals in the forest is allowed, but not grazing, untethered livestock and camping.

Legalities aside, recreational forest users are finding their movements limited by the abundant waste deposits the animals leave behind on trails. Even sympathetic forestgoers are finding their patience tested.

"I am considering making a formal complaint," said one previously amused bicyclist. "Many of the single-track trails used by bicyclists and hikers are fouled with numerous piles of manure. So much so that I'm avoiding some of my favorite trails. I'm sure they have their animals drinking (and fouling) the small streams as well, like the Jolly Giant and Janes Creek. Not to mention that the yak boys are defecating in the woods as well." The biker said a friend who lives on Fickle Hill Road won't let his children use the forest out of fear of a negative interaction with the yaksmen.

Whether the rising tide of complaints will bring any enforcement is unclear. APD Interim Chief Rick Ehle couldn't be reached before deadline.

"We encourage recreational users to call APD or Environmental Services to report any municipal code violations, safety concerns, trail maintenance issues, unauthorized motorized vehicles, wood poaching, firearms, wildlife poaching, litter, overnight camping, etc.," Andre said.
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