Environmental Science

A Man Was Convicted Of Vandalism After Diverting the Course of a River at a US National Park

A Man Was Convicted Of Vandalism After Diverting the Course of a River at a US National Park

Has Pierce Brosnan taught us nothing? Far from how we should order our martinis, the former Bond star was recently in court and punished for trespassing in Yellowstone National Park, and it appears that the warning did not reach everyone. A man has been convicted of tampering and vandalism after taking a shovel to the sands of Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to reroute a river.

Andrew Blair Howard, a supposedly enthusiastic member of the fishing community, was observed taking a shovel to the sand to dig a waterway between the Great Lake and the river, providing boats easier access in August 2022. The water often runs down the Platte River before spilling into Lake Michigan, where it is appreciated by kayakers and beachgoers.

Previously, the area was dredged annually, allowing boats to traverse between the Platte River and Lake Michigan to fish for salmon. According to the New York Times, dredging was halted to allow dune vegetation to flourish following an environmental assessment study in 2016.

A Man Was Convicted Of Vandalism After Diverting the Course of a River at a US National Park

The images above from 2022 demonstrate the extent of the diversion produced by Mr Howard and others. According to the US Attorney’s Office Western District of Michigan, Howard dug the trench with a shovel and then stacked boulders to dam and divert the stream. Mr Howard claimed he constructed the tunnel to improve access for his boat after enlisting the assistance of four individuals to drag it across the riverbed. The trench, which was initially narrow, grew significantly in a matter of days due to the strength of the river and dam, widening the channel to around 61 meters (200 feet) wide.

On August 26, 2022, the US Park Rangers requested additional information and community assistance in the investigation, including the establishment of an anonymous tip line. The opening of a new canal resulted in an inflow of fishermen who took advantage of the new, broader access for their boats.

Howard was convicted in February 2024 of one crime of tampering and one count of vandalism, both of which are federal misdemeanors. In a statement, US Magistrate Judge Ray Kent stated that Mr. Howard “intended to and did divert the flow of the Platte River into Platte Bay”.

“The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a Michigan jewel,” declared US Attorney Mark Totten. “Every year, numerous visitors enjoy its beautiful waterways, towering dunes, and rolling woodlands. Mr. Howard had a policy disagreement with the National Park Service and took matters into his own hands, violating the law rather than using legal ways to advocate for his stance. His activities caused enormous financial and ecological devastation, as well as altering the environment that many people enjoyed.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Howard described his conviction as a “tremendous injustice”. However, messing with US National Parks can result in substantial penalties, prohibitions, and, as Howard has demonstrated, conviction for federal offenses. It is preferable to leave things as you found them.