Hikers find bomb in wilderness

  The July discovery of a pipe bomb by three backpackers in New Mexico's Gila Wilderness was thought to be a freak incident. Then Forest Service officials started comparing notes: It was the fourth time someone had found a bomb or explosive in the wilderness in the past 13 months.

That realization jarred Forest Service employees who live in Catron County, now well known for its ordinances "taking back" public lands. Officials say they haven't a clue about who stashed the explosives. "It could be an individual, it could be a paramilitary group that trains in there, it could be a militia group, it could be war-games groups," says Allan Funkhouser, criminal investigator for the Forest Service. Agency officials have taken some flak for failing to disclose or discuss the presence of any of the explosives until July 7 - shortly after the pipe bomb turned up.

"They made a bad judgment call by not talking about this, and they put one of their own people in danger," says Kieran Suckling of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity in Silver City.

Forest Service ranger Jay Cooley failed to take the names or phone numbers of the backpackers who gave him the pipe bomb; he also hiked for two days with it in his backpack before turning it over to a law enforcement officer. "Tony Davis

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