News & Features

Bozeman Pilot Fined for Landing Helicopter in Bob Marshall Wilderness

Samuel Schwerin paid $500 for federal misdemeanor after landing helicopter on the South Fork Flathead River

A Bozeman man publicly rebuked for landing a helicopter in the Bob Marshall Wilderness last month has paid a $500 fine, the maximum allowed under federal law, Montana U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme announced Tuesday.

Samuel L. Schwerin, 48, of Bozeman, received notice of the violation, a federal misdemeanor, after landing a helicopter on the South Fork of the Flathead River in the Bob Marshall Wilderness on May 16.

Federal law prohibits landing a helicopter in a designated wilderness area. The National Park Service and Forest Service also request all aircraft stay at an altitude of at least 2,000 feet above any federal wilderness land.

The U.S. Forest Service investigated the incident after receiving a report on May 19 by a person traveling on horseback who saw a helicopter parked on a gravel bar on the South Fork, according to a press release from the Department of Justice.

The Forest Service, in consultation with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, issued Schwerin the violation notice, which was processed on June 12 through the U.S. Courts’ Central Violations Bureau (CVB). The CVB handles violation notices issued and processes payments for infractions committed on federal property. The Code of Federal Regulations identifies penalties for this violation under 36 CFR section 261.1b. The maximum penalty is a $500 fine, six months in prison or both.

“Wilderness areas were created to be free of motorized activity, including helicopters. Montanans cherish places like the Bob Marshall not only for their spectacular mountains, rivers, meadows and wildlife but also for the quiet and solitude they provide. People who violate the wilderness regulations will be investigated and prosecuted,” Alme stated in the release.

“We take concerns about the proper use of our national forests and wilderness areas very seriously,” added Flathead National Forest Supervisor Kurt Steele. “Many members of the public took the time to share their thoughts on the incident and their appreciation for the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. It is a world-renowned jewel that plays an important role in our landscape level ecosystem and our tourism economy.

“We appreciate the public reporting these types of incidents so our Forest Service law enforcement professionals and partners at the Department of Justice can investigate and appropriately prosecute them,” Steele said in the press release.