Park Service official apologizes in Eagle for rangers' actions

Two rangers on the Yukon River should not have handcuffed a man and held him for two hours, said the head of the National Park Service in Alaska, while issuing an apology.

Regional Director Sue Masica visited the town of Eagle last week to offer her apologies for the actions of the agency's two rangers last summer.

The apology was not connected to the highly publicized arrest and trial of 71-year-old Jim Wilde of Central. Masica's visit was in response to a run-in the same two rangers had a month earlier with Tim Henry of Eagle. The rangers handcuffed and detained Henry for about two hours for allegedly refusing to identify himself.

"It was wrong. It shouldn't have happened," Masica told about 35 residents who attended the June 2 meeting in the gym at the Eagle school. "It hurt this community, and we do apologize, and we need to extend an apology to him personally."

Her words drew a round of applause from the crowd. However, it remains to be seen whether her visit to Eagle will help mend strained relations between the park service and some of the 125 residents in the town that borders the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve.

Masica said the park service is committed to repairing relations with residents in the remote community, many of whom use the preserve for subsistence. The park service director said that mistakes were made last summer and that neither of the two rangers involved in the incidents will be back in the preserve.

Residents in the town near the Canada border said Masica's appearance and apology were a start.

"We're skeptically optimistic," said local subsistence hunter and fisherman Don Woodruff of the local sentiment. "We're moving in a positive direction, but change with the government is pretty slow."

Subsistence fisherman Andy Bassich was less optimistic.

"Our lifestyle is going away because of regulations made by the entity supposedly set up to protect it," he said.

Relations between the park service and Eagle residents have been strained the last few years by what some in the community claim is heavy-handed treatment by rangers working in the preserve.

The situation came to a head last summer after rangers detained Henry in August and arrested Wilde a month later in a dramatic confrontation on the Yukon River in which rangers pointed guns at Wilde and his two passengers. The latter incident galvanized Alaskans who dispute the park service's authority to enforce laws on state waterways such as the Yukon River.

Wilde, meanwhile, ended up in federal court in April to fight three of the four misdemeanor charges against him. The four-day trial ended April 8, and a federal judge is still deliberating the case.