The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 32 - April 6, 2000
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Rescued 'Bilers Cited for Wilderness Trespassing
The Forest Service has cited the three young men rescued in the Gros Ventre Wilderness last Monday for trespassing the Wilderness with a motorized vehicle.
Last Sunday, Wesley Miller, 19, Mike Dana, 18, and Jim Bob Griffin, 25, narrowly escaped death by nearly driving their snowmobiles over a huge 250 foot cliff on the southwest side of Eagle Peak in the Gros Ventre Wilderness. One of the trio's snowmobiles did plunge over the cliff, and one other became stuck in the snow above the cliff.
The three men spent a cold night in a grove of trees in the Tosi Creek Basin. They had no food, were improperly dressed and lacked basic survival gear including a map and the means to start a fire.
The three men were found early Monday morning by members of Tip Top Search and Rescue after the rescuers enlisted a helicopter to assist with the search. The helicopter landed in the Wildnerness and picked up the three men. Mr. Miller was hypothermic when he was found, and was taken to the Pinedale Clinic.
On Monday afternoon, the Forest Service hired an airplane to fly the area, according to Bridger Wilderness Supervisor Cindy Stein. Ms. Stein said the Sheriff's Department report said the snowmobile that had plunged over the cliff had landed outside the Wilderness boundary, yet the three men were found several miles inside the Wilderness. This didn't make sense to the Forest Service, said Ms. Stein, which is why the airplane was hired to fly the area.
During the flight, the Forest Service spotted four more snowmobiles in the vicinity of the snowmobile that had become stuck in the snow above the cliff. According to Ms. Stein, Jim Bob Griffin had enlisted three friends to assist him in retrieving the stuck snowmobile. After further investigation, the Forest Service cited a total of six people for violating the Wilderness with a motorized vehicle. Messrs. Miller and Dana were cited for violating the Wilderness Sunday. Mr. Griffin was cited twice, once for Sunday, and again for returning to the Wilderness in his snowmobile on Monday. Greg Grassell, Keith Manning and one other unidentified person were cited for returning to retrieve the stranded snowmobile with Mr. Griffin on Monday. Each violation is punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and six months in jail. Those charged must appear before the federal magistrate in Jackson.
Pinedale District Ranger Bob Reese said the Forest Service was happy the three men were found safe and rescued, but is concerned by the snowmobile violations into the Wilderness. "The amount of Wilderness trespassing is increasing at a rapid rate," said Mr. Reese. He added that the new and better machines are allowing people to go places that weren't possible before. "People are getting into tougher and tougher places, and not only putting themselves into danger, but also the search and rescue people. Sooner or later, someone is going to be seriously hurt or killed."
Ms. Stein noted that the three were snowmobiling in what was essentially an avalanche bowl and that on Sunday, the conditions were "just right" for an avalanche.
Forest Service Snowmobile Ranger Gary Hayward said that based on the number of tracks leading into the Wilderness, there have been literally "thousands" of snowmobile Wilderness trespasses this winter. Despite the rampant Wilderness violations, the six people cited this week are the only snowmobilers cited for trespassing over the past two years.
Mr. Hayward and Ms. Stein explain that the Pinedale District has had snowmobile rangers for only two years. During that time, the bulk of the effort has been focused on education and posting the Wilderness Boundary with signs. Mr. Hayward says much of his time has been spent patrolling the wildlife restriction area along the Green River.
Early this Tuesday morning, Tip Top's High Angle team and one Forest Service person took six snowmobiles into the Wilderness to retrieve the stuck snowmobile. Tip Top President Dan Holgate of Big Piney praised the Forest Service and Cindy Stein for allowing his team to retrieve the snowmobile this winter instead of hauling it out in pieces with horses later this spring. Overall, he believes the relationship between Tip Top and the Forest Service has been strengthened by last week's rescue.
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