With two deaths confirmed and two more deaths in Yellowstone in the past two weeks rumoured to be linked to the Fenn Treasure hunt, the New Mexico State Police Chief is calling for the chase to end. This is not the first time authorities have asked for this to end. Yellowstone officials have been calling for Mr. Fenn to stop the chase since inception, as many people have been lost, took reckless risks and required risky rescues, which put the SAR folks lives in danger.
Mr. Fenn's has used the analogy of people die hunting for deer, so there is no rush to stop deer hunting and when asked if he is responsible he responded by saying, "are the people who issue licences responsible for deaths linked to deer hunting?" Other searchers use the analogy, driving kills way more people, but the state doesn't stop driving.
Ok, on the surface these counter arguments sound reasonable. However, take driving: we have seen problems with deaths before but driving is deemed necessary by society, treasure hunting is not. Society has chosen to look at ways of making driving safer. Seat belts, drinking and driving, texting while driving related deaths were very high, so laws were legislated to mitigate the risk and a reduction of deaths resulted. As far as deaths or lost hunters related to deer hunting, if deaths to hunters occurred do to issuing licenses in dangerous areas, then it is the issuing agency's responsibility to stop issuing licences in those areas. Thus Mr. Fenn has a responsibility and the means to curb the behaviour of searchers.
Ultimately the person who endangers their life and takes unnecessary risks is the one responsible. So what can we do to mitigate the risk? Education is what most feel is a reasonable compromise. Mr. Fenn, blog owners and I (with my SAR experience) have certainly has done plenty of preaching to try and educate people. So why is it not working? Think of the analogy of introducing a new species into a strange new habitat. Species thrive in certain geographical areas because they have adapted over time. It would be irresponsible to round up a few pairs of lamas and dump them in a wolf habitat and hope they will thrive. Each species must be carefully acclimatized before introducing them into a new eco system. Humans are the same, taking an urbanite from New York and luring them into the Rockies hoping that a little education and a warning to stay safe is not likely to work well. It is kind of like throwing a aircraft checklist at someone who has never flown before and asking them to fly through the Rocky Mountains. The same goes for treasure hunting, letting loose high energy, gold hungry people with only one thing on their mind into the dangerous environment of the Rocky Mountains is just a recipe for disaster.
Mr. Fenn is in a precarious situation, he can't just pull the treasure, for some maybe very close to solving the poem and retrieving it. Would that be fair? No. He says it is out of his hands and that is true to a certain degree, but he can mitigate the risk by removing the more obvious risks to human life. For instance, he warns not to go where an 80 year old man would not carry a 42 pound box. He is leaving it up to people, people with gold fever to decide, and that is not going to work! Sure the armchair searchers will easily see that as common sense, but treasure hunters with gold fever are tone deaf. They need to held by the hand. Mr. Fenn needs to clarify that the treasure is no further that 200m from a road. He said the treasure is wet, "no place for the meek", and "if you are brave"; but to a crazed treasure hunting zealot, that means jump in a raging river, so he needs to spell it out. The treasure is not in water and they do not need to get wet.
So there is a compromise, and it will definitely take most of the magic out of the treasure hunt, but maybe it is time to install a few "seat belts " on the Chase and actually reveal that there really is no water and there really is no hiking into the woods as the poem is set up as a guise, but it may be for the best for the safety and future of the hunt.
Like any accident in aviation, investigations reveal there is never a single attribute that caused the accident. It is always a series of small errors that slip through undetected like the alignment of Swiss Cheese, eventually all those holes line up. Everyone has a responsibility in making those holes as small as possible and the searcher must accept responsibility and learn to trap and mitigate those little mistakes when they arise.
Bottom line, there is no comparison of the problem treasure hunts cause society compared to the statistically much higher causes of death, like drug and alcohol abuse and driving under the influence, distracted driving, homicide, etc. The treasure hunting community just needs to do their part to stay safe, so law enforcement and rescue personnel can focus on the real issues that society deals them.