Snowmobilers cross YNP boundaries into backcountry. Caught!
By Ralph Maughan On January 28, 2009 · 23 Comments · In National Parks, Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park
$5,000 and up to six months in jail possible-
Given the difficulty of detecting the more serious violations like these, I think it would be nice to see them get the max.
Story: 4 snowmobilers caught. Billings Gazette.
Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.
23 Responses to Snowmobilers cross YNP boundaries into backcountry. Caught!
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Hope they throw the book at them! What if everyone decided to go off trail. Its a privilege to have YNP and the rules are to protect the park Hope the legal system doesn’t buckle under again.
I went on a ski patrol with BFC a few weeks ago. Outside the park, we saw snowmobile tracks in an area clearly marked as a no no for snowmobiles – it was a ski trail.
The BFC people with me seemed worried about snowmobiles even in the park, and we had to stay alert.
Oddly, there were snowcoach tracks on the Western Boundary trail, something they said they had never seen before – which actually made skiing a little difficult for me because I was dragging around a baby on a sled. Not sure why there was a snowcoach on that trail.
This should be a nice expensive trip for them flat landers. They have to pay the fine, pay for the machines, and maybe have to be a girlfriend for Bubba in jail. Sounds fine to me!
Okay, maybe I shouldn’t stir the pot, but I have to object to the homophobic language in the last comment and the perpetuation of the stereotype about prisons. The prisons in this country are a horrible thing, the slave labor of our times. And, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone or rape.
How can we stand up for wild places and wild life, abused and neglected and made fun of and continue to make inane and ignorant jokes about other aspects of our broken system.
I have a vitriolic and negative response to what these people on snowmobiles have done to my favorite place in the world, but responses like the last one don’t help us make it better.
One reason for the snowcoach tracks on the trail may be that they are used by the local search and rescue team to transport folks who are injured or in danger of hypothermia.
As for snowmobilers and their actions, they seem to race around streets and off-limits areas in surrounding communities with something close to impunity due to the fact that they are revered for their tourist cash that they spend in the area. The problem being, especially in hard economic times, is that only a small group of business owners benefit from this income. They will soon discover that the investment in non-sustainable tourism will result in an economic crash for them and the employee base that carries the business on their backs.
Those who violate such rules protecting what little pristine wilderness there is left, should pay dearly for their arrogance in satisfying their “me first, to hell with everybody else” urges at a cost to everyone else.
Jum, I agree with your stance on blog decorum.
Point in fact however, no one in prison is forced to labor. It is against the law. If you volunteer to work, you get paid a pitance but it gives you money for the prison store and helps with your accumulation of “good time”. If you chose not to work, you can sit in your cell all day, use the library or the gym. In an era where mandated nutritional standards for prisoners are higher than for the school lunch program, lets not go too far in feeling sorry for these folks.
We’ll talk about that another time; I have no use for the prison industrial complex or for deciding that some people – deemed “criminals” are less of people and less worthy than anyone else in our society, especially as enforced by the state.
But, I am an anarchist; so, we’d be talking about a lot more than prison, and this topic is not the place to continue that discussion.
At the very least, we can object to joking about rape and the homophobic insinuation in that.
jdubya, apologies accepted.
Thanks for the explanation of the reason for snowcoach tracks. They were very deep and easy to ski in except I had my baby in a sled behind me with tracks wider than the snowcoach tracks. So, I was wondering why they would be there.
As for the snowmobiles, they are irksome. I once had a couple of dear friends who owned a restaurant in Cooke City. They listened all winter to the snowmobiles coming from the Beartooth Highway at all hours of the night. I asked my friends what they thought about snowmobiles. What they said to me was interesting. One of them said to me, “What the problem is is the culture.” What they meant was that it’s not so much the air, noise, or environmental concerns as much as the reckless and selfish nature of the snowmobile culture. People snowmobiled in Yellowstone because they loved to snowmobile; few of them were doing it because they loved Yellowstone, and it showed in waking up townspeople at all hours of the night, in the attitudes toward what they were doing. It was the lack of love for the place they were, not so much because they rode snowmobiles or as a universal rule – there could be respectful people who rode snowmobiles – but because of the worldview that many brought to their activity.
When I see stories like this, it seems to me to be what my friends in Cooke City were talking about.
So a few snowmobilers go across Yellowstone’s western boundary and go joyriding in the backcountry. Whoop de do. Focus on the big picture. No snowmobiles in Yellowstone Park. First get snowmobiles out of the park. Then defend the park boundaries from snowmobilers.
Why are snowmobile guides required in Yellowstone? Because the record clearly shows that without guides/cops to keep snowmobilers in line, they’ll go bonkers. They chase wildlife for laughs and giggles. Roaring through untracked snow gives them some perverse pleasure. Going off the roads to sidehill provides cheap thrills. Do we need these people in a national park?
For better or worse, snowmobilers can run amok on millions of acres of public land outside the national parks. Kick snowmobilers out of Yellowstone, and let people who actualy want to experience the park in winter use snowcoaches for access.
The problem with snowcoaches would be the carbon footprint. They get about 1mile/gal. and breakdown regularly due to the additional load on the engine/transmission when track conversions are installed. there are over 500 miles of national forest trails that are used as roads to get to the places where machines stray from the trails to do their stunts and such. The majority of the traffic is there, no BAT-mobile requirements.
The “gate communities” around Yellowstone are taking a big hit due to the economic downturn and the way the snowmobile touring business operates in them. Not to mention that snow conditions have a lot to do with tourist numbers in decline.
Originally, the park was not open in the winter, a point to remember.
A popular idea that is getting more attention is to simply plow the roads in to Old Faithful and a couple other spots and just let the common-folk drive in like in the summer. Close it when weather conditions are too dire. Currently, it costs about $125.00/individual to enter the park on a sled.
If the park were open year-round there would be continuous visitation of the gate communities as well as the park. People come to see the park. They show up in the off seasons wondering why the park is closed, at which time few businesses are open. They close when the park is closed and would rather have consistent income instead of seasonal income. It wold cost the park less in plowing vs grooming costs, Sylvan Pass would have to be abandoned, as is Dunraven, in winter.
Jim Macdonald – I find myself agreeing with everything you write and appreciate your thoughtful comments. I feel that many of the campers we see in Yellowstone are not there because they love Yellowstone – they prove it by the negligent ways they treat the campgrounds and their behavior in the park. I am dismayed by this lack of respect for the special things about Yellowstone and the self-serving attitudes of many of these “visitors” to the park. We have found this attitude to be pervasive more and more wherever we travel, particularly regarding national parks and other wilderness-type areas. It is a strange phenomenon and very disturbing.
Salle – I do not agree that the park should be open all seasons – it needs a break from these people.
Okay, first of all — I AM NOT A SNOWMOBILER, I DON’T OWN ONE, I DON’T LIKE THE COLD THAT MUCH!!
Now, could someone tell me why 4 guys going across a boundary that (I assume) isn’t very obvious with a few feet of snow on it and playing in the snow — where the tracks will disappear with the next storm or windy day— causes such a ruckus??
There was nothing said in what I read about them harassing wildlife, destroying any structures or anything else, or other activities that would seem to be so patently obvious to some here.
It kind of sounds like they (the authorities) had to go out of their way to even find the tracks — what was damaged??
Don’t get your knickers in a knot, I’m just trying to understand what was so bad that it would call for at least some sort of capital punishment, if not being burned at the stake or drawn and quartered in front of Old Faithful.
As you can tell from this conversation, I’m not for burning anyone at the stake; however, in some respects you’ve got to be kidding me. That boundary is extremely well marked. You can’t go anywhere without going past the boundary markers; there are zillions of them. The boundary is also marked very well by the Western boundary trail. It’s very difficult to enter the park without knowing you have entered the park wherever you are in backcountry.
For others using the trails, like snowshoers and skiers, it’s very dangerous when there are snowmobiles around coming fast around tree-covered corners. What is it like for the wildlife and vegetation?
There’s nothing good that comes to Yellowstone when the snowmobiles go into backcountry. It’s always a disaster waiting to happen – avalanches, accidents, etc. I don’t really care for the book being thrown at people, but I wish the people in West Yellowstone would wake up to what’s happening – Salle is just one voice. That’s the real tragedy, that the people in whose backyard this is happening have fooled themselves that this is somehow good for them. It’s not good for the place they love, and frankly helps very few people in that town. It speaks to the utter breakdown of community in our society, that we will let outsiders trash and trample our backyards for some kicks if they pay off the right people. We can do better.
Virginia, thanks for the kind words, again. You won’t win many friends agreeing with me most of the time! But, I’m thankful for your words of encouragement all the more because of it.
I’d like to reiterate what Jim said. The boundary is so well marked that you can see it on Google Earth. They remove the trees like it’s a road, which might be part of the problem, and have put in posts with metal signs on them for miles and miles.
Back in the late 1960s, Glacier Park ranger Art Sedlak pulled out his .357 magnum and shot a snowmobile that illegally entered the park. Shot it in the heart/engine block. Snowmobilers wanted to hang him. NPS brass sided with the bubbleheads on snowmobiles. But a ranger in a national park shooting a snowmobile made national news, and the public was happy Sedlak blasted the illegal snowmobile.
Maybe Yellowstone Park officials need to put on a show about illegal snowmobiling in the park. How about a video showing rangers shooting snowmobiles? Or video showing snowmobile tracks going right past the park boundary signs, and then a public hanging of 4 snowmobiles? Every news network in the country would take notice.
“I do not agree that the park should be open all seasons – it needs a break from these people.”
Virginia – I agree.
(I was going to say that at the end but decided to leave it out.)
A couple of years ago a group I was with was caught riding inside the boundaries from the Idaho side. Let me tell you guys that the area is marked but not “well marked”. We had no idea we were in the park and they sent 8 park rangers to find us and escort us out. How’s that for efficiency? And they were all riding in the boundaries too. On the way out a couple of the rangers enjoyed busting up a couple cornices. We were met by the trail by 5 more park rangers (3 of them escorted us out) and i’ve never dealt with such jerks as these guys. They thought they were God’s gift to this earth. Needless to say, the way they treated us was uncalled for and they have lost my respect forever. Anyway, accidents do happen and this unfortunately, was one. To all you people who think that $5000 in fines and jail time isn’t harsh enough I say, “get real”. Absolutely no was damage was caused yet we were fined a “restoration fee”. I won’t say how much but it was absurd. We didn’t have to pay anywhere near the max fine but it was way more than it should have been. I think our fine helped purchase the sleds the rangers use to ride in the boundaries off “marked trails” on a daily basis. Go YNP Rangers!!!
I was a park ranger for 30 years, including from ’74 to ’82 snow mobile patrol out of West Yellowstone and skiing the boundaries for the late hunt on the Gallatin. The situation you describe with lots of law types swoping down and jacking you around I saw and heard of happening more and more as the years went by. What I noted was if the law dogs got into gangs then mob frenzy took over. I always tried to pass out of these “events” (luckily I was too far away most of the time) nor thought much of these super cops or aspiring law boys tagging the heels (sleds in this case) seeking a buzz rush. I’d let them know what I thought of it also. I see it happening with most law enforcement now days in and out of the Park. Increased communications and transportation means all the cohorts who take all those training sessions together get to strut their stuff out in the field. Your case was an extension of a training session.
When those gun ho types wanted to “help” on poacher cases, where I had to radio in after I had tracked the poachers to their camps, if I had no other choice from administration types who wanted to “help” by bringing the helicopters I tried to divert them to supposed escape routes. Most of the time I wanted no one with me in these type of situations, or at best one other ranger who knew what to do. I would ask this person to stay 75 or so feet back with the shotgun on waist ready….and not utter a word. The poachers would always be looking to this guy after the initial walk in to camp and it helped a lot for me to gather up the guns and then to get statements from them. It just wasn’t safe with all those law dogs buzzing around you.
As you know, you did have the responsibility to know where you were and what the laws were in your area. As a ranger on the scene I always tried to determine extent of culpability before citing to the level of that “crime”. One time I was skiing the late hunt and while on the boundary saw two hunters on the other side of Daly creek (which was over a mile in the Park as the cross flies). This means major infraction. They were stalking a herd of elk a quarter mile away from them. I skied as fast as I could down the slopes and then started side stepping up the slopes to them. When I got within ear shot I started yelling at them. By then they had got to a log and where ready to shoot. Finally, upon hearing me, the bigger guy turned to me and motioned with his arm there were elk uphill and then he put his finger to his mouth to show to be quiet.
Yes, they had come in during the dark, a grand father with showing his 16 year old how to hunt) and missed the signs (and there were lots of them because I was the one putting them up in the summers).
What was one to do? Put two more poacher numbers on the stock, or do as my old time law enforcement head had told me years ago, “The least amount of enforcement it takes to change a behavioral pattern”? I cited for loaded fire arms in the Park but withheld the “Hunting in the Park” mandatory court appearance. I could have waited till they shot and then gotten an award.
The same drainage a year earlier I had a couple very legit poachers, two guys from Anaconda who were big sheep poacher types. I don’t know why they went for a measley elk, but they were waiting for the cover of darkness to bring it out. A whisp of smoke in dense woods gave them away. I thought of everything I could to charge them with everything possible (illegal fire, breaking live tree branches, camping out of designated area…along with the poaching citation).
Pick the level of culpability you feel you were by illegally snowmobiling in the Park, after a couple of years of retrospect, and this will probably be the level of enforcement you should have been given.
Sadly it doesn’t always work out this way…and those higher in govt. administration should be looking into putting back proper public servant perspective for the law enforcement types you encountered.
Hey Bob, very well said. If only there were more Park Rangers like yourself. I kid you not, if we even tried to get off our sleds our stand up these guys were putting their hands on their waists! We have been sledding up in the Black Canyon area for years and are pretty familiar with the boundary signs but somehow we missed a sign and got nailed for it. This is probably wishful thinking but is a warning asking too much? I hear of all the guys that blatantly disregard the rules and ride illegally and they should have to pay the price but not all are as guilty. But the Rangers do need to do their jobs and we all appreciate them when they are more like yourself. Thanks for showing Park Rangers how they should be.
I’d have to know the specifics of your incusion a bit better, but if you were in a 100 yards or so (while in back country areas) and trying to get around a downed tree I probably would have given a warning. If it was play day swooping the hills further in, it would have been a ticket whether you knew you were in the Park or not. If I back tracked and found a sign folks passed by in clear weather (or one ripped off the post and thrown behind a tree as it sometimes happened) it would have been a court date.
What I found while working in Yellowstone was the multiple Park violation scenarios occurred because the rangers wouldn’t get out of the offices and patrol. Thus, it would get pretty bad “out there” before the activities took on crisis management by law enforcement types. Your comment on any move by you guys being met with rangers reaching for duty belts probably means these were guys who were out of their element ie. guys use to the road patrol, guys who were scared in the “back country”, and guys having a hard time perceiving the public in general.
I would go to permanent law enforcement refreshers and hear a lot of “its us against the bad guys” (the public). This was by 15-20 year employees. It was best put to me by what I considered a very good seasonal ranger…. who had been a college football player and now retired California Highway patrolman. He stayed only two years. He was taking a break from front country duties and was riding with me in the back country.
He told me two things. One, he thought you could put most of his patrol “buddies” in two adjoining rooms, lock the doors with each having a radio and extra batteries, bullet proof vest and full duty belt with extra ammo and another pistol concealed somewhere on their body…..and then let them talk their “Walter Mitty adventure patrols”. You could unlock the door at the end of their 8 hour shift and they would come out satisfied they had done a good days work. Second, he told me 98% of the people coming to Yellowstone were just families on vacation and very little they did warranted the reaction these rangers gave them.
Violations: Snowmobile violations in particular need to be closely monitored. If not snowmobilers become like lemmings following each others tracks to the sea. I
f the Park is having a problem whether it is snowmobiling, dogs in back country or illegal camping ….and it has been allowed to get out of hand …. then a lot of advance publicity to the surrounding communities, in the newspapers, and temporary postings at trail heads etc. needs to happen. It is sort of like the orange signs one sees on the highways where it says violations in construction areas means double secret probation ..I mean double the fine amount.
In my first year at Thorofare I saw where a lot of horse parties were coming in with dogs from the Cody side Eagle Creek trail head. In hearing their stories I found out round about that the previous rangers had always given warnings and let them continue on their way. It was the easy way out for the ranger, because if they gave a ticket it also meant either the party, or part of the party had to turn around (20 miles from the trail head) with the dog or the ranger had to confiscate the dog(s) and take them to the trail head. A lot of very unhappy people and a lot of conflict resolution would need to be addressed as aftermath of those ranger actions….. if he did what he should be doing. The campers played on this “outrage” and intimidated any ranger who tried to carry out Park policy.
My solution was to have the folks at East Entrance get permission from the Forest Service to put up “no dogs allowed signs in Yellowstone” to allow signs directly next to the trail at the trail head (but out of strung up pack animals), put up no dogs signage at the Park boundary at Eagle Pass and then talk to all the campers at their destination, Bridger Lake, letting them know the consequences (and why dogs weren’t allowed in Yellowstone’s back country).
It was a hard decison for people riding out from the Forest Service trail head to have some of their party take a dog back to Cody or Powell, how ever. Some had friends on the Shoshone they asked to board their dog. Others didn’t and thus some took the risk of not getting caught and kept going. I gave out 14 tickets that summer. All were to people who had thought up stories, such as, “It is not our dog. It just followed us from the trail head”. Next year it was 2 citations for having dogs in the back country. I tried to treat all with respect and that next year most came back …and without their “guard dog”. They (most that is) were pleasant upon meeting on the trail and things worked out well. They knew they were wrong the year before because they knowingly tried to skirt the violation.
If we had not done the prior signing etc. there would have been a lot of unhappy campers. And if I had been reaching for my gun upon their first very vocal response to me telling them they had to turn around… or couldn’t go back into the Park (if they had already made it to Bridger Lake without me catching it) they would have been very soured to Yellowstone’s law enforcement.
Like I say, I probably would not have given a warning in your case, as it appears you guys were well in the Park playing, but my hope would be you would have spread the word that you were treated with respect.
I am sorry to say that I think the concept of respect is lost on too many people anymore.
I do know that locals around the parks assist out-of-towners in finding their way into the park-and other off limits areas- on sleds and some do this themselves believing that by way of residential proximity they have some divine right to exemption to the rules/laws.
It’s too bad that such a mindset is present to such levels but that’s one of the characteristics of the American mindset these past couple decades.
Every trick in the books are used by some “locals” to establish lands as theirs and not some “vague” concept of public property. Outfitters would tell private hunters where they could get into the park, hunt and get away with it.
On enforcement side it does not give carte blanc reason to take measures and attitudes to the level seen. Otherwise we end up with a Bush- Cheney prejudice of being above the law by justifying above the law actions. I fully agree it is too bad the way it is.