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Contact: Amy Vanderbilt, 406 888-5838
WEST GLACIER, MONT. – Two local area men were the focus of a recent search in the North Fork area of Glacier National Park during the night of Tuesday, January 6 after the men pursued their mountain lion hounds across the North Fork of the Flathead River into the park. A total of 12 North Valley Search and Rescue (SAR) Team members and three park rangers were involved in locating the men and their dogs.
Rangers at Glacier National Park were contacted by members of the North Valley SAR Team at 7:30 p.m. to begin a search for the two overdue men. At approximately 11 a.m. that morning, the hunters told a hunting party family member that they were going after the dogs. That was the last communication with the hunters. The North Valley SAR Team was contacted when the hunters did not return to their vehicle by early evening. Utilizing snowmobiles for transportation, the dogs and men were found in the park by rangers shortly after midnight about three-and-a-half miles south of the Polebridge Ranger Station on the Inside North Fork Road.
Bill Sapa, 39, of Columbia Falls, and Lawrence Bedford, 34 of Martin City, had gone snowmobiling off the North Fork Road toward the direction of the park late on the morning of January 6th in search of two hunting dogs. According to their Global Positioning System (GPS) units, the GPS-collared dogs had crossed the North Fork of the Flathead River into Glacier National Park in pursuit of a mountain lion and had not returned.
Weather conditions consisted of heavy, wet snow, falling on four feet of unconsolidated snow and the hunters had no skis or snow shoes. The men were last seen that morning at their vehicle outside the park just south of Hay Creek, approximately four miles south of Polebridge Ranger Station. The last known location of the dogs was inside the park near Winona Lake approximately one-and-a-half miles due east of where the truck was parked and approximately five miles south of the Polebridge Ranger Station. The hunter’s snowmobiles were found only 200 yards from their vehicle bogged down due to snow conditions and terrain.
After the hunters were reported overdue, two North Fork SAR Team members set off on skis from the point last seen at approximately 8:30 p.m. and followed the hunter’s tracks in an effort to verify their direction and likely location. The hunter’s tracks veered south along the North Fork of the Flathead River and crossed into the park. The searchers speculated that the hunters might be headed toward the Logging Creek Ranger Station, eight miles south of Polebridge. At that point, given the late hour and heavy, wet, snow conditions, rangers initiated an initial search from the Polebridge Ranger Station south along the Inside North Fork Road by snowmobile.
Rangers were unsuccessful in finding anyone during their first sweep south from Polebridge by snowmobile. Shortly after midnight, a second sweep was made and within three-and-a-half miles south of the Polebridge Ranger Station – rangers encountered the two dogs and eventually both hunters – still tracking the dogs. The hunters told rangers they could tell by GPS that the dogs had followed the fresh snowmobile tracks north toward the ranger station and were walking that direction when found. Both hunters and dogs were transported out of the backcountry and back to the Polebridge Ranger Station.
Bedford and Sapa told rangers that they were not in distress, but pursued the dogs into the park for fear the dogs might be killed by wolves if left overnight and were simply continuing their search. It was their belief that they’d likely reach their vehicle via the Polebridge Ranger Station by approximately 3 a.m. that next morning.
“Hunters are also reminded that it is their responsibility to control the activity of dogs used in pursuit of mountain lions during the hunting season. There are inherent risks in choosing to hunt adjacent to park boundaries such as river ice, illegal harassment of park wildlife, and dog welfare in areas inhabited by wolves,” said Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright. He added, “Individuals hunting with dogs are responsible for insuring that they stay out of Glacier National Park. In an effort to minimize unnecessary search efforts, hunters are also urged to make responsible decisions concerning communicating their plans and itineraries to an accountable party.”
Park officials reiterate that hunters may not pursue, dress out, or transport legally wounded or killed animals that end up within Glacier National Park’s boundaries unless they are accompanied by a park ranger. Persons should call park headquarters at 406-888-7800 to report such incidents and to arrange for a ranger escort.
Bedford, the owner of the dogs was cited under 36 CFR 2.15(a)(1) for having dogs in a closed area.
- NPS -