Friday, March 31, 2017

Missing in the wild?

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.



Jonathan H said...

As people have said for years, Nature is cruel and heartless.
I find myself wondering if this is a growing problem as fewer people grow up in the wilds and with an understanding of what to do and what not to do.
Some people seek 'big name' adventures without building up the ability to safely complete them - for example climbing a mountain because it is well known or the tallest despite having never climbed a mountain before and having no mountaineering experience.

sysadmn said...

For some real down the rabbit hole fun, look up David Paulides' Missing 411 Series ( Paulides has written six books looking at missing and mysterious incidents in National Parks, and finding patterns where they may or may not exist. Reddit's /r/missing411 is a largely unskeptical introduction.

I'm not saying it's aliens, but ... it's aliens - unless it's Bigfoot, the Fey, time warps, or something else.

Old NFO said...

Interesting how 'little' publicity this gets other than the local paper... More interesting is the fact that none of this is collated data from the NPS.

Anonymous said...

In his book Deep Survival, the author relates his own experience about very nearly getting lost on a little trail loop at a hotel. Brought on by fatigue and the late hour (near sundown) he nearly leaves to marked trail for a "short cut" which could have turned into trouble. This kind of behavior has been the cause of more disasters than we can ever know. His book is well worth reading.

Anonymous said...

It's easier to keep track of wolves and bears because you're allowed to put tracking collars and ear tags on them.

Nature will kill you without even noticing.


Anonymous said...

All missing persons may not be Mother Nature's fault. Years ago, a neighbor's daughter and boyfriend were hiking the Appalachian Trail. They had their trip well mapped out and were prepared for normal hiking / camping eventualities. They had pre-arranged periodic check in calls with the girl's parents from camp sites and towns along the trail. When a call was overdue, the father called the local police of the town where they should have been. Very limp response. So the father went down himself and conducted his own investigation. He finally found his daughter and boyfriend in shallow graves just off the trail. They had been shot. There are bad people doing bad things in some of these wilderness areas. That's tough to prepare for.

Anonymous said...

Aside from an act of God which cannot be reasonably prevented, (and I use the word reasonably with full intent), the great majority of these are just from human stupidity.

How is it possible, except by being stupid, to venture into ANY environment that is inherently dangerous without making all preparations for self-reliance?

Shelter, water, food, comms, medical, self-protection, etc.

For example, from the above " bad people doing bad things". If you are not anticipating, capable and prepared to deal with bad people, why, beyond naive stupidity, would one go to any venue whereby those conditions exist?

Question: How to avoid bar fights?

Answer: Avoid bars.

Critic: I do not want to live like that.

Answer: OK, you might not.

Unknown said...

Having recently moved away from Idaho, I can assure you that a great deal happens out on public lands.

It says something that if you shoot and bury another person on public lands, it'll most likely never be discovered. And if it is, the investigation will be cursory at best.
But if you do the same to a wolf, the feds will move heaven and earth to hunt you down.

Mark Matis said...

And always remember, when you're in bear country, to carry a .22 caliber pistol with you. After all, when a bear attacks, you only need to be able to outrun your companion...

Anonymous said...

I'll admit to traveling alone in some rough country because I like the solitude. I do tell people generally where I'm going and when I'll get back.

I carry what I need to keep myself alive for a few days. We thought it would be 3 days before you got reported over due and they had any real chance of finding you.

I would stay off the AT unless you were armed and with a group.


Anonymous said...

When I went hiking alone in Southeastern Colorado, on BLM and Forest Service land, I checked in and out with the office in Springfield. They really appreciated my doing that. I had to go by the building when I went to or from, so why not? I took water, nibbles, and a feral-dog-repelling-device after one encounter that proved I can climb cliffs if the situation warrants. As far as other four-footed wildlife, I figured that if a mountain lion jumped me, I'd probably be the last to know, and just tried to stay away from places with tall grass or other concealment.


Anderson said...

When one drives across the Western U.S., it really hits home just how vast and uninhabited much of it is.

When the adventurer Steve Fossett went missing in his plane, the search found four previously undiscovered plane crashes in Nevada, but not his. A few years later a hiker stumbled, by chance, upon Fossett's crash site.

I like the fact that there are still plenty of places to disappear into. I don't plan on doing so, I just like knowing that places like that still exist.

Quartermaster said...

There is a mountaineering club in the Seattle Area, one of whose members wrote a backpacking book, "Freedom of The Hills" I think was the title. One of the chapters details a very good concept he labeled the "10 Essentials." Those 10 things are left behind no matter how short your day trip is into the woods. Most of the people who get in trouble in the woods don't have much of what is on that list.

Sherm said...

"Lost? I don't believe I've ever been lost. But I was powerful turned round for three days one time..."
-- Jim Bridger

Anonymous said...

I've had pretty extensive backcountry and survival experience and have had a close call or two. If you've prepared and have the proper mindset I find the risks to be minimal. You can have the occasional unforeseeable catastrophic accident or health emergency but that's usually not the case. It's usually not one mistake or accident that gets people into trouble but a series of bad choices which come to bite them in the ass when something unexpected but entirely survivable occurs. The chain of lack of preparation, knowledge beforehand and poor decisions after the incident leave them with their ass in a sling. And not to be too unkind but there are a percentage of people visiting wild areas who have led very sheltered lives and frankly are just dumb as dirt. They can barely manage to successfully negotiate a trip to Starbucks and whole foods without siri and satnav assistance yet after a couple seasons of bear grills under their belt, a selfie stick, iphone and a go pro and they're off into the wilds on an adventure they can impress their friends with on instagram or YouTube.

Mark Matis said...

And what exactly is wrong with that, Anonymous at 3:16 AM on April 1, 2017?

Or do you really mind having less votes for the One World Government crowd? Seems like one of the best means for the "population control" such types love so much...

Will said...


as long as their video is recovered, it's all good!