The Wyoming U.S. District Court issued three misdemeanor citations to Travis L. Wheeler for living on forest lands, leaving a campfire unattended and abandoning a campsite in unsanitary conditions.
Wheeler, who had a long-term campsite in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest just north of Alpine, was fined $800, banned from the Caribou-Targhee and Bridger-Teton National Forests for five years and put on probation for five years, according to court files.
On June 20 a Forest Service ranger saw several vehicles, two RV trailers, an unattended campfire and personal property left near Forest Road 020 in the Caribou-Targhee’s Palisades Ranger District, court files state. The ranger photographed the location and returned to the area just over two weeks later, finding the same items and another unattended campfire.
“The trailers were parked haphazardly throughout the trees and brush, causing extensive resource damage,” Patrol Captain Rayce Angell said in a Forest Service news release.
On July 23 three Forest Service officers returned to the location finding the same situation and Wheeler, who told officers that the seven vehicles on the property were his and that he intended to sell them, according to court files.
“I would guess 0.75 acres of land is now pure dirt and all vegetation is destroyed and dead,” Wheeler wrote in a probable cause statement. “There were random car parts scattered all over and boilers in the grass with copper wires running to them over 60 yards long towards the trailer houses. I also observed piles of human feces on the ground that was buried under ground.”
A ranger photographed the vehicles and the scene while another told Wheeler to get his property out of the forest within two weeks. On Aug. 10 Wheeler received a U.S. District Court violation notice to appear in court Oct. 19.
On Oct. 19 U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark L. Carman issued the court’s judgment, including probation and the fine, after Wheeler pleaded guilty to three citations: leaving a fire without completely extinguishing it; camping for a period longer than allowed; and dumping refuse, trash, litter brought from private property.
“The USFS appreciates members of the public for reporting violations and urges individuals to continue to report any suspicious or illegal activity on their public lands,” the news release states.
Wheeler’s case illustrates the capacity for authorities to punish those who set up permanently on public lands, exceeding limits on the number of days allowed in a given site.
“Taking up residence on national forest system lands and/or facilities is illegal,” the release states. “Permanent camping creates a variety of issues for forest officials who seek to balance public access and resource conservation. Disposal of waste, trash and other environmental concerns associated with more permanent residences affects all public land users.”