Wolf Creek CEO sentenced in federal court

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Randall D. Pitcher, 52, who owns and operates the Wolf Creek Ski Area within the confines of the Rio Grande National Forest, was sentenced today in Durango by U.S. Magistrate Judge David L. West.

The sentence is to serve five years on supervised probation, including 500 hours of community service, to be performed 100 hours per year for each of the five years of probation, U.S. Attorney John Walsh and U.S. Forest Service Special Agent in Charge Laura Mark announced this afternoon.

The community service is to be served with the Sheriff’s Departments of Archuleta, Hinsdale and Mineral Counties together with the U.S. Forest Service.

Pitcher was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.

Pitcher was previously charged and pleaded guilty to conducting work in the national forest without a permit. Pitcher entered his guilty plea before West in Durango on Nov. 24.

According to the stipulated facts contained in the plea agreement, on Feb. 11, March 3 and March 4, Pitcher hired a commercial helicopter service to transport himself and his Wolf Creek Ski Area employees on to the Rio Grande National Forest for the purpose of engaging in avalanche training and search and rescue training. On all three occasions, Pitcher did not have a permit to conduct such work activities nor did he have the necessary authorization of the Forest Service to conduct such work activities.

“The permitting process for those working in the Forest serves many important functions, including protecting those doing the work as well as those who may be in the area,” said Walsh. “In this instance, the defendant was engaged in avalanche mitigation and response training. That activity is inherently dangerous, thus amplifying the need for a permit. Thanks to the investigative work of the U.S. Forest Service, Mr. Pitcher was held accountable for failing to obtain the necessary authorization before conducting the activities. Such failure in this instance led to serious consequences.”

“The Forest Service takes permitting for services seriously on National Forest System lands because it is an integral part of managing for public safety and resource protection,” said Mark. “We feel that the sentence in this case adequately reflects the serious nature of this matter.”

“The permitting process is an important part of managing National Forest System lands and when people fail to engage in the permitting process they may become subject to criminal charges,” said Martha Williamson, district ranger, Divide Ranger District, Rio Grande National Forest.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Forest Service and prosecuted by Durango Branch Office Chief James Candelaria.

For more information, see Thursday’s issue of The SUN.