I never imagined myself becoming a spokesman in the ongoing controversy over the government's regulatory policies. But, like so many Americans, I have been thrust against my will into the middle of the debate because of the government's unfair efforts to punish me for just trying to stay alive.
My story began in December 1996 and continues till today. I went snowmobiling with a friend in the New Mexico countryside. We were in the Rio Grande National Forest which thousands of other snowmobilers have done and continue to do today. There is no law prohibiting snowmobiling in the national forest. But then without warning, in the middle of our trip, a fierce ground blizzard occurred. Winds of 60-70 miles per hour stirred up so much snow you could barely see in front of you. My friend, inexperienced in the operation of a snowmobile, soon got stuck in the snow and got on the back of mine. But, in attempting to escape, I too got lost in the whirling storm or "whiteout". Our situation got even more desperate when my snowmobile broke down. With night falling and the temperature dropping, I knew we would have to find shelter if we were to survive. That night, we stayed in a snow cave we dug ourselves. The next day we began walking in search of help and after 18 hours of trudging through the wilderness we located a barn where we called for help.
My friend and I had to be hospitalized for exposure and I still suffer from the effects of spending the night in the brutal cold. However, we were both grateful to be alive thankful that our ordeal was over. But as it turned out, it wasn't over. Soon after I left the hospital, the United States Forest Service charged me with illegally taking my snowmobile into a federally-designated wilderness area where such machinery is prohibited. They threatened me with a $5000 fine and six months in jail. I was stunned! During our ordeal in the blizzard, the last thing we were thinking about was illegally entering a wilderness area. Worse, the Forrest Service didn't even know if I had in fact entered a wilderness area. My snowmobile was never recovered, and, to the best of my knowledge, it is still lying up there, lost in the forest. What bothers me the most, is that the government would even think of citing me when all I was doing was trying to save my life and the life of a friend from a dangerous blizzard. The Forest Service chose to spend $600,000 of taxpayer money prosecuting their unjust case against me.
I actually count myself one of the fortunate victims of regulatory abuse. I have discovered that there are all too many stories where innocent people weren't just fined but lost everything they had- their homes, their businesses, their livelihoods.
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