Saving your own life shouldn't be a crime
By Bobby Unser
Imagine you are visiting one of our national forests when, without warning, you are caught in a blizzard.
All visibility is gone. You have no idea which direction is east and which is west, which is north and which is south. You become hopelessly lost.
There are no signs of civilization anywhere - no buildings, no roads, no telephone or power lines.
You are completely alone.
The temperature is so bitterly cold that you know the odds are against you surviving the night.
But, somehow, you do manage to survive the night and make it to safety.
But your ordeal is not over.
Your reward for surviving this terrible experience is to be slapped with a fine. The crime? Federal bureaucrats believe that - while you were trying to save your own life - you may have inadvertently crossed onto land they believe should be reserved only for wildlife.
Couldn't happen in America? It can happen. I know because it happened to me.
My troubles began in December 1996 when I went snowmobiling with a friend in the Rio Grande National Forest in New Mexico.
When the blizzard descended upon us, we were surprised as weather forecasters hadn't predicted it. We certainly couldn't have been prepared for winds of 50- 60 miles per hour that reduced visibility to almost nothing.
Soon after the blizzard hit, my friend, inexperienced in the operation of a snowmobile, got stuck in the snow and had to get on the back of mine.
Our situation really turned desperate, however, when my snowmobile broke down. That meant we had to make it out of the blizzard on foot.
With night falling and the temperature dropping, I knew we would have to find shelter if we were to survive. I knew it would probably drop to 30 degrees below zero with high winds. After all, we were about 11,000 feet in the high mountains. That night, we stayed in a snow cave we dug ourselves.
The next day, we began walking in search of help.
After 18 hours and 18 miles of trudging through the snow, we located a barn where we called for help.
Both my friend and I had to be hospitalized for exposure.
But my ordeal wasn't over. Soon after I left the hospital, the U.S. Forest Service charged me with illegally taking my snowmobile into a federally- designated wilderness area and threatened me with a $5,000 fine.
I was stunned. My friend and I were literally driving in circles desperately trying to save our lives. The last thing on our minds was whether or not we had entered a wilderness area.
The sad thing is, this kind of nonsense goes on all the time in the name of protecting the environment.
A good case in point is the experience of Paul and Emma Berger.
In 1993, armed U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents showed up on the Bergers' doorstep after informants claimed that the couple had used pesticides to kill bald eagles.
No evidence was found that they had done so. But that didn't matter.
Agents forced their way into the Bergers' house even though they had no search warrant for the house.
Adding insult to injury, the agents had a CNN camera crew with them. As the Bergers endured the humiliation of being treated like common criminals with cameras rolling, Fish and Wildlife agents did on- camera interviews attacking the couple's integrity.
Then there's the case of Belva Coblanz. Nearly blind, this 83-year-old woman simply wants to sell the house she has lived in for the past 40 years so she can move to California to be near her daughter. But local officials have decided that Belva can't sell her property because they ruled there is a protected wetland on the site. They won't allow the land to be developed even though they allowed a city councilman who owned land right next to hers to sell his land for a housing development.
These stories are just two of 100 stories featured in the National Directory of Environmental and Regulatory Victims that was just released by Washington, D.C.- based National Center for Public Policy Research.
It's a must read for anyone wanting to learn what's wrong with environmental regulations today.
The reason we want a clean environment and abundant wildlife is to make our lives better. Too many government bureaucrats have forgotten this. It's up to the American people to remind them.
Bobby Unser is a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Public Policy Research.
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