FAIRBANKS -- The National Park Service is changing how it will conduct boat inspections on the Yukon River following the handcuffing and arrest of a 71-year-old Central man in a case that prompted some people to question whether park rangers are overstepping their authority.
Jim Wilde was arrested and spent four days in jail over allegations he refused to stop for a boat inspection last summer. Rangers said they felt he was trying to flee, but Wilde said he was just trying to get to shore, where the inspection could be done more safely.
His trial in Superior Court concluded April 8 and now is in a federal magistrate's hands.
The park service will continue checking boats on the Yukon River this summer in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, but rangers will try to do inspections on shore, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Preserve superintendent Greg Dudgeon said this week he doesn't know if rangers Joe Dallemolle and Ben Grodjesk, the two involved in arresting Wilde, will be working in the preserve this summer.
The trial revealed that Dallemolle pointed a pistol and shotgun at Wilde, his 74-year-old wife, Hannelore, and 66-year-old friend, Fred Schenk, when Wilde refused to stop for a boat check in the middle of the river and turn off his engine.
Wilde told the court that it would have been unsafe to shut down his heavily loaded boat there. He said he was heading for shore when Dallemolle pointed his pistol and then a shotgun at him and at his passengers. The two rangers testified that Dallemolle drew his weapons because Wilde swerved his boat at them at one point during a brief chase.
Once on shore, the two rangers tackled Wilde and threatened him with Tasers before handcuffing him and transporting him to Fairbanks Correctional Center.
Wilde pleaded not guilty and challenged the four misdemeanor charges against him, culminating in last week's four-day trial.
Dudgeon attended a nearly three-hour meeting in the Yukon River village of Eagle last week. He told residents in the community closest to the preserve that the park service will continue patrolling the river and doing boat and hunter checks as it has done the past three years.
Several of the residents at the meeting said the park service should not be patrolling the river because it is a state and not a federal matter. Park service officials said, and courts have agreed, that their agency has jurisdiction on navigable state waterways that flow through federal land.
Dudgeon also indicated that the two rangers were scheduled to return to work in the preserve this summer. That prompted an angry response from the audience, according to Ann Millard of radio station KEAA, who attended the meeting.
Don Woodruff, who owns a cabin on the Kandik River, said bringing either one of the two rangers back to Eagle would "guarantee" more confrontations between residents and rangers.
In a phone interview earlier this week, the News-Miner reported that Dudgeon was less clear about whether either of the two rangers would return to the preserve, a vast wilderness area east of Fairbanks that stretches to the Canada border and is bisected by the Yukon River.
Dudgeon said Dallemolle was a temporary ranger and hasn't applied to come back this year. Grodjesk, a full-time ranger who spent part of last summer in Eagle, has not been assigned a post for the coming season. Grodjesk will likely work in either the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve or Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve northeast of Fairbanks, Dudgeon said.
"We are trying to ascertain where our needs are," he said.
The superintendent also said rangers will "place a greater emphasis on shore contacts" rather than stopping boaters in the middle of the river, as they tried to do with Wilde.
"We're not going to get in the way of a person out there who is navigating the rivers and is not having a problem," he said.
Information from: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com