Associated Press Wyoming snowmobilers allegedly removed wilderness boundary signs
CODY, Wyo. (AP) - Four Wyoming snowmobilers who allegedly removed wilderness boundary signs and evaded U.S. Forest Service officials have been ordered to appear before a federal magistrate in Missoula.
The Cody men - Tom Phipps, Vincent Kalkowski, Paul Leroux and Ryan Eskeli - were ticketed and fined $500 each on Sunday for entering the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness near Yellowstone National Park.
Federal officials said the incident was one of the most flagrant of a mounting number of illegal snowmobile incursions into the wilderness. Motorized vehicles are prohibited in wilderness areas.
"We're very tired of this behavior, especially by local people," Forest Service Special Agent Duane Moe said. "There's no excuse for it and they know better. When we catch them, they're going to regret it."
Phipps owns Mountain Valley Engine Service and an Arctic Cat and Yamaha snowmobile dealership in Cody.
He and Kalkowski, a Cody chiropractor, said they were riding to a lookout north of Cooke City they often visited by snowmobile in years past. They never intended to enter the wilderness area, they said.
"We looked at these signs and said, 'How can this be? We were riding here just last year," Kalkowski said. "It takes an act of Congress to change a wilderness boundary. We figured, 'It's got to be a hoax, a mistake or a prank, something of that nature.' "
The men said they moved the signs blocking the route only because they believed they had been erected either by mistake or as a prank by snowmobile opponents.
"I don't advocate riding in wilderness, but when we've lost an area we've been able to ride in for years and years and now we can't, I feel helpless," Phipps said. "That doesn't make a wrong into a right, but we weren't going anywhere we hadn't gone in the past."
After the Forest Service officers caught up with them, the men paid $500 fines on the spot. On Tuesday, officers in Cody issued each of them additional tickets for destruction of government property and failing to stop when told.
The charges are misdemeanors punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to six months in jail. Their court date is scheduled for April 18.