Record-breaking kayakers face hefty fines over illegal camping on protected island

The Arctic Cowboys Northwest Passage
(Image credit: The Arctic Cowboys / YouTube)

Four kayakers who made headlines last year for completing the first-ever single-season kayak journey through the Northwest Passage are facing charges which put a sour note on their achievement.

The team – West Hansen and Jeff Wueste of Texas, Eileen Visser of New York, and Mark Agnew from the UK – collectively known as the Arctic Cowboys, were actually arrested last year on August 25, for camping on Bylot Island, a protected bird sanctuary, without permission, although this was not made public as the time. Now, however, legal action against the quartet is underway in Nunavut courts. 

Each member has been charged with 45 violations of the Canadian National Parks Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act. If found guilty, they could face massive fines.

Arctic Cowboys with kayak in the Northwest Passage

The Arctic Cowboys, from left: West Hansen, Eileen Visser, Mark Agnew, and Jeff Wueste, in the Northwest Passage in July (Image credit: Arctic Cowboys)

ExplorerWeb, which has been following the story, first got wind of the potential permit problem during a conversation with a park warden on Baffin Island last summer. Apparently the Cowboys never gained the necessary permissions.

Which became an issue when, after beginning their journey in early July, they soon found their route blocked by sea ice along Bylot Island’s south coast. As a result, they holed up in a small hunting cabin on the southeast corner of the island for two weeks, waiting for the ice to break up. The island is a protected bird sanctuary, home to the nesting sites of thick-billed murres, black-legged kittiwakes and greater snow geese, and the Cowboys’ stay there was illegal.

According to ExplorerWeb, the team has been charged with a range of offenses, including using public lands in a park against the Canada National Parks Act, possessing a firearm in a park contrary to National Parks Wildlife Regulations and disturbing wildlife in a park.