Imagine the trouble you’d get into if you ran an unofficial guiding business in Yellowstone National Park, encouraged visitors to enter thermal grounds that are off-limits, created your own “hot pots” in rivers, and had your clients jump into streams from cliffs in the park where it is illegal to do so.
While government prosecutors wanted Theodore Eugene Garland, a 60-year-old Oklahoma man, to be jailed for a month, face more than $20,000 in fines, and be banned from entering Yellowstone for five years, Magistrate Judge Mark Carman obviously thought that was a bit much.
But the judge’s decision to fine Garland just $600, along with ordering a $500 payment to Yellowstone Forever Geological Resource Fund, and ban him from the park through year’s end, didn’t sit well with many who follow the park’s Facebook page.
“Always amazed at how minor the punishment is for national park resource violations,” commented Sean Smith. “I’m sure many see the fine and possibly short jail stints as the cost of doing business. It’s time to up the punishment for these crimes.”
“WOW!” added Phyllis Dickson Johnson. “He got a slap on the hand with a feather! He deserved to be barred from the park for life for starters! This was not an impulsive one-time bad decision but organized and consistent disrespect for the park and the law. And he encouraged others to harm the park as well. Parks better get more serious about these serious offenders before they ruin it for everyone!”
According to the case brought against Garland, the man ran “a social-media page, a podcast, and a guidebook. All three have overlapping pictures and posts about his guided tours in YNP, which violated closures and other park regulations and encouraged visitors to do the same.”
Garland was charged with 15 counts of illegal activities and violating national park regulations. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Wyoming wanted the man fined $750 for each count, in addition to another $750 for each count as a Community Service Payment, and sentenced to a month in jail.
After hearing the evidence at a bench trial held on April 7-8, Judge Carman found Garland guilty on seven counts, according to a park release.
Prosecutors try not to criticize judges, realizing they could be found in contempt. But reading between the lines of acting United States Attorney Bob Murray you can sense his displeasure with the sentence.
“Enforcing federal criminal laws for the protection of our national parks’ resources will always remain a priority of the United States Attorney’s office in Wyoming,” said Murray. “That is especially true when a criminal motivated by greed, like Mr. Garland, encourages others to commit more crimes and cause more damage to the treasures of America’s first national park.”