A resident of Alaska has been ordered to pay almost $2,500 for a fine and court cost associated with federal prosecution for dumping refuse into the Colorado River and illegally collecting firewood in violation of his non-commercial private rafting trip permit. Nels Nicholas Niemi, 75, was sentenced December 1 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark E. Aspey. Niemi was convicted during a late October bench trial. “This prosecution and sentence remind all users of the Colorado River that the rules and regulations designed to protect the ecosystem within the Grand Canyon National Park are important and will be vigorously enforced,” said United States Attorney John S. Leonardo. Evidence at trial showed that Niemi was the trip leader of a 12 day non-commercial rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon National Park. He was apprised by National Park Staff at the outset of his trip of the requirements of his permit including that driftwood could not be collected for fires and, at the end of the trip, the group take with them all refuse, trash and garbage produced. During the course of the river trip, trash was dumped into the Colorado River on a daily basis, either by Niemi or at his direction as the trip leader, and Niemi collected driftwood, which he used to make fires each night. At sentencing, evidence was produced showing that Niemi was employed by a commercial expedition company, which advertised the company’s commitment to the “Leave No Trace Behind” principle. The Court, in imposing the fines, costs and assessments, expressed its concern that Niemi displayed complete disregard for regulations designed to protect the river ecosystem. “It is clear that you chose to abide by those regulations with which you agreed, and ignored those with which you did not,” Judge Aspey said. The Court noted that such an attitude was particularly dangerous given the thousands of tourists who raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon each year.
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