Local ranger awarded BLM Law Enforcement Ranger of the Year
KINGMAN — In August, thieves managed to rip the fee tube out of the ground at Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Cow Springs Campground.
“They stole directly from everyone who uses Wild Cow Springs Campground,” said Carrie Wostal, BLM Colorado River District law enforcement ranger. “People don’t realize the fees for each campground are used to maintain that campground.”
Nestled in a quiet grove of oak and ponderosa pines, Wild Cow Springs Campground is a popular summer camping site in the Hualapai Mountains that is, on average, 20 degrees cooler than the nearby desert valleys. Access to the campground requires 14 miles of travel on Hualapai Mountain Road through Mohave County’s Hualapai Mountain Park and an additional 5 miles on the high-clearance, four-wheel-drive recommended, unpaved, rocky and rutted one-lane Flag Mine Road.
The campsite is a tiny part of the more than 2.4 million acres of public land in the Colorado River District managed by the BLM and patrolled by Wostal.
“Someone asked if we were cutting back on rangers,” Wostal said. “I said, no, we’ve never had more. Most BLM offices only have one ranger assigned to them.”
A federal law enforcement ranger for nearly 18 years, Wostal recently was recognized for her work protecting public lands, resources and visitors with the 2017 BLM Law Enforcement Ranger of the Year award.
“I’m not sure who was behind it — you have to be nominated internally — because they never did show me the nomination,” Wostal said. “It’s pretty cool.”
The nation’s largest land manager, BLM is a small agency with big mission, balancing commercial activities, recreation and conservation on its public lands.
For Wostal, the variety of managed activities is a major attraction of the job.
“My favorite part of the job is being outdoors,” she said. “I also have to be familiar with every program, so I can get involved with everyone and be a part of it. I have to have knowledge to enforce regulations and I get to talk to people quite a bit, educating them. I’ve always been a very social person and I enjoy that about my job.”
Wostal’s national recognition included her work on the cleanup of a marijuana grow site with the assistance of the Army National Guard and a fellow special agent. Her work primarily consists of enforcement of federal natural resource regulations, including BLM camping regulations, trash dumping, vegetation destruction and theft, abandoned vehicles, cultural resource theft and obstruction of lawful use.
“Most common is dumping — trash,” Wostal said. “And enforcing camping regulations and the 14-day camp limit. People taking vegetation is a big thing up here — I had two reports of yucca theft last week — people take Joshua trees, barrel cactus and yucca to sell to nurseries in Vegas and Phoenix. People starting wildland fires, that’s a big thing, investigating human-caused fires, abandoned vehicles and people interfering with lawful uses of public lands.”
It’s not uncommon for people to put up “no trespassing” signs or park their vehicle in the middle of a side road to prevent others from accessing public land, Wostal said.
“Last week hunters came across a vehicle, a little Toyota, parked in the middle of a little side road,” the ranger said. “They were worried about the people who were nowhere around. I want to at least make contact with the owner and say I know it looks like nobody uses these roads, but you can’t be parking in the middle of one. The reality is many people use these roads and you’re ruining an experience for them when you do that. And then they worry about you because they think something bad happened.”
Wostal is investigating a series of live-tree cuttings along Hualapai Mountain Road.
“This guy is cutting live standing trees along the main road,” Wostal said. “At a recent public meeting, a man familiar with this case got me the address of where the suspect possibly resides. That’s just cool. I’d like to pursue some recovery costs. We have a biologist who can tell me exactly how much the value of each tree is.”
Working anywhere between a handful and 20 active investigations at any given time, Wostal is committed to community policing — or just talking to people as she describes it.
“When there’s just one of me, I have to use it,” she said. “It increases my workforce. People out here enjoying public lands are helping me with my job when they know what I’m looking for. I give them our dispatch number, it’s available 24/7 to call about a dump site along the road or anything like that.”
The BLM 24-hour dispatch number is 800-637-9152.
“This is for natural resources,” Wostal said. “For human emergencies, people still want to call 911.”
Wostal graduated from high school in Kingman and earned a forestry degree from Northern Arizona University. After working a series of fast-food jobs while in school, she got a summer job at Grand Canyon National Park, where she was stationed on a trail to help keep people from exceeding their capabilities.
“I was like the St. Bernard of the desert,” Wostal said. “If somebody was having distress on the trail, I’d go out and see how severe it was and how to deal with it. I saw all the different types of rangers that worked at the Grand Canyon and while I was working along this trail, I’d see all these violations taking place in front of me — I got to a point where I wanted to take care of the problems and be able to handle that.”
Wostal joined the BLM in 2000, working as a law enforcement officer in Elko, Nevada, and Coos Bay, Oregon, before landing the ranger position with the Colorado River District in 2014.
“It’s neat coming back to the same place I went to school, it feels like I’m giving back to the community I came from,” Wostal said. “There are things out here that I didn’t even know about when I was growing up here — I was missing out. Now I get out and teach people what we do. These are our public lands, for us to enjoy. I love it.”