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Kim Crumbo lauded for conservation efforts as search in Yellowstone continues

By Tim Vandenack - | Sep 27, 2021
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Kim Crumbo is pictured in this undated photo.
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A helicopter aids in U.S. National Park Service efforts to locate Kim Crumbo around Shoshone Lake at Yellowstone National Park in this undated photo. NPS officials said Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, that the search had shifted from a rescue to recovery effort.
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A helicopter aids in U.S. National Park Service efforts to locate Kim Crumbo around Shoshone Lake at Yellowstone National Park in this undated photo. NPS officials said Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, that the search had shifted from a rescue to recovery effort.

John Davis is torn in talking about Kim Crumbo, the highly regarded conservationist who was reported missing last week during a visit to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

The Rewilding Insitute executive director and fellow conservationist lapses into the past tense, then stops himself and returns to the present tense. Crumbo served on the Rewilding Institute board and was very active in the organization, among others. “He’s a hero. He’s a legend,” Davis said.

It’s been a tough time for friends, family and associates of Crumbo, of Ogden, not to mention Mark O’Neill. The two men, half-brothers, were reported overdue by a family member on Sept. 19 from a four-night trip to Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone and the body of O’Neill, of Chimacum, Washington, was found the next day along the lake shore.

Park search-and-rescue crews have been searching for Crumbo, 74, and last Friday, the National Park Service announced the mission had moved from a rescue to recovery effort. The rescue mode is utilized when there’s a chance of saving somebody’s life while recovery mode typically implies the focus of a search has probably died, according to rescue organizations.

Photo supplied, National Park Service

A helicopter aids in U.S. National Park Service efforts to locate Kim Crumbo around Shoshone Lake at Yellowstone National Park in this undated photo. NPS officials said Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, that the search had shifted from a rescue to recovery effort.

National Park Service, or NPS, crews swept all the trails around Shoshone Lake as well as the lake’s shoreline and scoured the lake surface by helicopter. On Friday, the NPS’s Subermged Resources Center started using sonar equipment to search the depths of the lake itself.

Friends like Davis hold out hope, noting Crumbo’s extensive skills and experience outdoors. The NPS retiree and former U.S. Navy Seal, who served in the Vietnam War, is also on the board of Wild Arizona, a conservation organization, and is lauded for his efforts in conserving land across the U.S. West. He served as an NPS river ranger and river guide for many years at Grand Canyon National Park.

“If somehow a miracle happens and he re-emerges, we will celebrate like never before,” said Davis, who’s based in upstate New York.

Still, while “desperately hoping,” Davis says he’s also trying to be realistic, mindful of things like the low temperature of Shoshone Lake. Though officials haven’t provided details on exactly what may have led to O’Neill’s death or Crumbo’s disappearance, the NPS noted in its initial press release on the matter that the average year-round temperature of the lake is about 48 degrees Fahrenheit. Survival time in water that cold, the NPS said, is typically around 20 to 30 minutes.

“Park search crews continue to search for Crumbo by foot and boat, with assistance from Grand Teton National Park’s interagency helicopter. Recovery efforts will continue for the next several days as conditions warrant,” Friday’s NPS statement said.

Meanwhile, colleagues like Davis and Kelly Burke, the Wild Arizona executive director, tout Crumbo’s conservation credentials and efforts to protect the untamed areas of the U.S. West. Wild Arizona, created by the recent merger of Arizona Wilderness and the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, focuses on conservation in Arizona and along the Colorado River.

“He’s a visionary and dedicated and hardworking conservationist who has inspired people all over the country to protect wild places and wild nature,” Burke said. The recent turn of events, she said, has been tough for those who know Crumbo.

Davis noted Crumbo’s extensive outdoors skills and experience in the wilds. “He is as competent and strong in the wilds as anyone I know,” he said.

He also lauded his efforts to protect open land and keep the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan alive. Crumbo has pushed to maintain a “wildlife corridor” along the the spine of the Rocky Mountain range into adjacent grassland areas.

“I think he found solace in the wide open places of the American West,” Davis said.

Soon after National Park Service crews initiated efforts to locate O’Neill and Crumbo on Sept. 19, they found a vacant campsite on the south side of Shoshone Lake. They also found a canoe, paddle and flotation device on the lake’s east shore, where O’Neill’s body was later found.

Though officials haven’t offered particulars on what may have happened, Davis noted that sharp, unexpected weather changes can dramatically change conditions on lakes, challenging even the most experienced outdoors people. “The weather can turn very rapidly and waves can come up and be big and strong,” he said.

NPS officials ask those who were in the Shoshone Lake area between Sept. 12-19 and others who may have information that could help investigators piece together a timeline of events to reach out. NPS contact info is 307-344-2428 or yell_tip@nps.gov.

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