• Outdoors Outdoors

Men face federal prison time after starting forest fire in one of America's 'most stunning' national parks: 'They camped illegally'

"These alleged crimes threatened the safety of park visitors, employees, and the ecosystem."

"These alleged crimes threatened the safety of park visitors, employees, and the ecosystem."

Photo Credit: iStock

In 2022, three men went camping illegally in Michigan's Isle Royale National Park and ended up starting a wildfire. Now, they've been charged with fines and could face federal jail time.

What happened?

The men, who have been identified as Dylan Kenneth Wagner, 29; Jason Arden Allard, 28; and Scott Warren Allard, 30, lit a fire while camping off-trail in August 2022.

The National Park Service issued a statement, saying, "They camped illegally in an area too close to the trail and had a fire that was not in one of the metal rings or grills provided by the park."

The New York Times reported that it took firefighters from two states nearly two full weeks to contain the wildfire, which obliterated six acres of Isle Royale. According to officials, this led to "the emergency closure of multiple trails, campgrounds and docks." Several hikers and campers also had to be evacuated.

Now, each of the men has been charged with one count of lighting, tending, or using a fire causing damage to real property as well as one count of violating conditions established by the superintendent at Isle Royale.

Each of these charges carries a maximum penalty of up to six months in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, up to five years of probation, and mandatory restitution, per the NPS statement.

Why is this case important?

"Some of America's most stunning places are right here in Michigan, including Isle Royale National Park," said Mark Totten, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan. "These alleged crimes threatened the safety of park visitors, employees, and the ecosystem that sustains a rich diversity of life. We're committed to protecting Isle Royale National Park and Michigan's other national treasures for all to enjoy — today and for generations to come."  

Unfortunately, similar incidents of carelessness are not uncommon, particularly in national parks. From a woman caught on camera taunting bears in Yellowstone to Florida resort owners who destroyed thousands of mangrove trees, a U.K. millionaire who illegally bulldozed protected river habitat, and more, these incidents are widespread and devastating — and, most frustratingly, avoidable.

What's being done to prevent similar incidents?

A group of lawyers and advocates are pushing for countries to prosecute the crime of "ecocide," which they define as "unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts."

Ecocide has been recognized as a crime by fewer than 20 countries, though a handful of others are considering adopting it. 

Additionally, charges such as these are important for sending a message to would-be perpetrators of environmental destruction.

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