Outside magazine has an interesting article on how many people go missing in wilderness areas. It uses a major case study, plus several others, to examine the situation. Here's an excerpt.
What I wanted to know was how many people are missing in our wild places, the roughly 640 million acres of federal lands—including national parks, national forests, and Bureau of Land Management property. Cases like 51-year-old Dale Stehling, who, in 2013, vanished from a short petroglyph-viewing trail near the gift shop at Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park. Morgan Heimer, a 22-year-old rafting guide, who was wearing a professional-grade personal flotation device when he disappeared in 2015 in Grand Canyon National Park during a hike after setting up camp. Ohioan Kris Fowler, who vanished from the Pacific Crest Trail last fall. At least two people have recently gone missing outside the national forest where I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There are scores more stories like this.
The Department of the Interior knows how many wolves and grizzly bears roam its wilds—can’t it keep track of visitors who disappear? But the government does not actively aggregate such statistics. The Department of Justice keeps a database, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, but reporting missing persons is voluntary in all but ten states, and law-enforcement and coroner participation is voluntary as well. So a lot of the missing are also missing from the database.
After the September 11 attacks, Interior tried to build its own database to track law-enforcement actions across lands managed by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs. (The Forest Service is under the Department of Agriculture.) The result, the Incident Management Analysis and Reporting System, is a $50 million Database to Nowhere—last year, only 14 percent of the several hundred reportable incidents were entered into it. The system is so flawed that Fish and Wildlife has said no thanks and refuses to use it.
That leaves the only estimates to civilians and conspiracy theorists. Aficionados of the vanished believe that at least 1,600 people, and perhaps many times that number, remain missing on public lands under circumstances that defy easy explanation.
Numbers aside, it matters tremendously where you happen to disappear. If you vanish in a municipality, the local police department is likely to look for you. The police can obtain assistance from the county sheriff or, in other cases, state police or university law enforcement. If foul play is suspected, your state’s bureau of investigation can decide to get involved. Atop that is the FBI. With the exception of the sheriff, however, these organizations don’t tend to go rifling through the woods unless your case turns into a criminal one.
But all those bets are off when you disappear in the wild. While big national parks like Yosemite operate almost as sovereign states, with their own crack search and rescue teams, go missing in most western states and, with the exception of New Mexico and Alaska, statutes that date back to the Old West stipulate that you’re now the responsibility of the county sheriff.
There's more at the link. It makes interesting reading.
The thing that strikes me about this article and the case histories it mentions is how many of the victims ignored what I was brought up to consider basic, fundamental safety principles when in the wild. They include (but are not limited to):
- Wear clothing appropriate for the terrain, season and weather;
- Don't go alone - always travel with a companion;
- Have some form of emergency communication with you, even if it's just a flashlight and/or flares for night use, or a means to start a fire and make smoke that will be observed;
- Carry emergency equipment (first-aid kit, food for at least a day, a canteen of water, etc.).
Even if you're just going running on a forest trail, why not take a minimal safety/emergency outfit with you? It doesn't have to be big or heavy.
Of course, you may run into an emergency that can't be avoided, and from which no amount of preparation can save you. That's a fact of life in the wilderness. If you can't handle that reality, don't go into the wilds at all. It's simple, really. That's one reason Miss D. and I understand each other so well. We both come from areas (she from Alaska, me from Africa) where Mother Nature has proved herself to be a stone cold bitch, who'll kill you in a heartbeat if you give her the chance. You stay alive by not giving her that chance. It seems to me most of those reported missing in the wild . . . well, let's just say they don't appear to have taken that lesson to heart.