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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Washington

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, July 14, 2015

White Swan Man Sentenced to One Year Probation and Ordered to Pay a Fine and Restitution Totaling $33,500

Spokane – Michael C. Ormsby, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that United States District Court Judge Stanley A. Bastian sentenced Delbert Loren Wheeler, age 56, of White Swan, Washington, to a one-year term of probation as an alternative to imprisonment for using a motor vehicle on non-designated routes within the National Wildlife Refuge System, in violation of 50 CFR § 27.31 and 16 U.S.C. § 668dd(f). Wheeler was convicted of this Class A misdemeanor following a jury trial that began on January 7, 2015. Judge Bastian ordered Wheeler to pay a fine of $1,500. Judge Bastian also ordered Wheeler to pay, within 120 days, $32,000 in restitution for damage caused to the ALE.

Wheeler’s conviction stemmed from an incident that occurred on October 7, 2011. Federal and state wildlife agents found him driving a truck cross-country within the Fitzner / Eberhardt Arid Lands Ecological Reserve (ALE), which location is part of the Hanford Reach National Monument. At the time, the agents were on the ALE investigating the circumstances surrounding an elk that had been previously shot and its carcass left on the reserve. During their investigation, the agents observed a herd of elk running from the direction of gunshots. Soon thereafter the agents observed Wheeler driving cross-country in a pick-up truck together with three passengers. Three freshly killed elk were in the bed of the truck. Evidence produced at trial showed that Wheeler had entered the ALE at a location where a section of fence had been knocked over. Wheeler, a member of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, asserted that treaty rights granted him the authority to enter the ALE in order to hunt and gather plants.

For many decades the ALE has served as a buffer zone and control site for Hanford and was relatively untouched by humans. As a result, the original shrub-steppe ecosystem was preserved intact within its boundaries. The Atomic Energy Commission designated the area as the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve in 1967. Control over the area passed to the Department of Energy in 1977 and to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1997. Many features of the shrub-steppe ecosystem found in the ALE are fragile and may be lost through introduction of invasive species and human activity. In 2000, President Clinton created the Hanford Reach National Monument in order to preserve these features. The Proclamation creating the Monument included the following description:

The monument contains one of the last remaining large blocks of shrub-steppe ecosystems in the Columbia River Basin, supporting an unusually high diversity of native plant and animal species. A large number of rare and sensitive plant species are found dispersed throughout the monument. A recent inventory resulted in the discovery of two plant species new to science . . . . Fragile microbiotic crusts, themselves of biological interest, are well developed in the monument and play an important role in stabilizing soils and providing nutrients to plants.

The Presidential Proclamation directed the creation of regulations that would prohibit all off-road use of vehicles within the Monument with limited exceptions for emergencies and other federally authorized purposes.

Michael C. Ormsby said, “The ALE is an extremely unique, environmentally sensitive reserve – it is truly a public treasure. As evidenced by the sentence, fine, and significant amount of restitution imposed in this case, the ALE demands protection. The United States Attorney’s Office, together with its law enforcement partners, will investigate and prosecute aggressively those individuals, like Wheeler, who wantonly choose to ignore the ALE’s inimitable characteristics and importance to future generations.”

This investigation was conducted by agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The case was prosecuted by Timothy J. Ohms, an Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.

Press Release Number: 
15-CR-6042-SAB
Updated July 14, 2015