If you're a trash cop, you live for calls like the one that Don Strunk and Carolyn Young got two months ago.

EUGENE — If you're a trash cop, you live for calls like the one that Don Strunk and Carolyn Young got two months ago.

"Illegal dump in progress." Strunk and Young, Lane County waste-management specialists, got the report from dispatch while returning to Eugene from Florence at the end of the day. Witnesses near Junction City had seen a driver with a truckload of old tires and another person throwing them out the back along the side of the road, Strunk said.

Hoping to grab an all-important license plate or other identifying information, Strunk and Young rushed to the scene, where they met up with a sheriff's deputy and quickly exchanged information in a Dari Mart parking lot.

Just then, the suspect pulled into the same parking lot with one of the witnesses right behind. "(The witness) goes, 'Arrest them! They're dumping tires!' " Young said. "It just worked out awesome."

That incident ended with an arrest. But a recent rash of illegal tire dumps has confounded authorities and prompted concerns that offenders are trying to make a buck off old tires or avoid paying to dispose of them properly.

Reports of the illegal dumping of old tires are common in Lane County and the amounts can be huge — Strunk found more than 100 tires in one spot three years ago.

Even so, he was struck by the activity in recent months: about a dozen reports of dumps with as many as 40 tires, he said.

More than 60 old tires were dumped along Crow Road a week ago, filling a tributary of Spencer Creek southwest of Eugene. There was another illegal dump of old tires in the same area at the same time, and a tire dump was recently reported in the Cottage Grove area as well, Strunk said.

In fact, as Strunk and Young were fielding those reports Thursday another one came in, for a dump of 20 to 25 tires in the Santa Clara area.

"In the last two months we've had an inflated amount of dumped tires," Strunk said, no pun intended. "I have some suspicions that people have taken junk tires for a real cheap price and then thrown them out in the woods."

It's illegal to throw tires away. Lane County transfer stations and businesses that take old tires charge $2 or $3 per tire.

It's possible that perpetrators are trying to make a buck by charging individuals and businesses for removal of old tires and then simply dumping them, Strunk said. The metal rims within old tires can also be sold as scrap, he added.

"If you find somebody taking tires for a few dollars, chances are your tires aren't being legally disposed of," Strunk said.

Those who illegally dump tires can be fined $287 and can be charged for the county's cost to remove and dispose of the tires, Strunk said. He estimated that the county's cost to remove the tires at Spencer Creek could be $500, with the fine on top of that.

Each year about 2.6 million waste tires in Oregon are shredded and disposed of, in Oregon or out-of-state, or dumped illegally.

Tires must be kept out of the landfill because they collect water and become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other pests, said Sarah Grimm, county waste reduction specialist.

The county collected more than 200 tons of old tires last year. The tires were sent to a company that shreds them for reuse as the rubber base for traffic cones, parking-lot bumpers and even restaurant-style floor mats, Grimm said.

Strunk speculated that the rash of recent tire dumps is tied to a profit motive, but he rejected the theory that the recession is forcing people to turn to new and illegal ways to make a buck.

"We've always had a lot of (dumped) tires," he said. "Good times or bad, people take the cheap way out."