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A Falls Mills man must pay $870 after getting caught damaging a Bland County preserve.
Monday, May 20, 2013
The U.S. Forest Service is citing the case of an ATV rider who was fined for damaging the Kimberling Creek Wilderness in Bland County as a reminder of laws designed to safeguard natural places from man-made impacts.
The Kimberling area is a 5,805-acre, federally declared wilderness under stringent conservation laws. While hiking, hunting, horseback riding and other relatively low-impact activities are permitted, the law forbids vehicles, mechanized equipment such as bicycles and carts and motorized items such as chain saws. There are no marked trails.
A law enforcement officer checking a report of an ATV being ridden in the Kimberling area found a homemade trail running from private land to a tree stand for hunting and a feeder on the public land, according to the forest service. Eastern Divide District Ranger Cindy Schiffer said the officer later caught up with John Hayes of Falls Mills, whose actions illustrate a widespread problem of ATV users driving from private property into the public forest where they destroy the natural environment.
Hayes, who appeared in U.S. District Court in Abingdon, was fined $370 and told to pay restitution of $500 after he was convicted of damaging the land, wildlife or vegetation of a protected area with a vehicle and hunting over bait, according to court records. Authorities dropped a charge of possessing or using a vehicle or motorized equipment in a designated wilderness area and a charge of maintaining an unapproved trail in the national forest. Records give his approximate age as 43.
Schiffer said her agency announced Hayes’ prosecution as a matter of public interest. He was sentenced in February, but the forest service news release came out only last week because the agency has been handling higher priorities, Schiffer said.
Many private parcels of land, some with homes or vacation homes, abut the national forest. Schiffer’s service area has 1,200 miles of common boundary with private property, too much for the agency to patrol sufficiently to detect all intrusions, Schiffer said. But it nabs those offenders it can, she said.
Haynes will pay, according to court records. But the cost to erase the unapproved trail and restore the damaged land is expected to come to $3,000, according to the news release. That’s six times his restitution obligation. Schiffer said a judge set the restitution and probably tied it to the amount of the damage provably linked to Hayes. In addition, the judge gave Hayes until March 2015 to start paying his obligation, court records show, a decision that Schiffer said could delay those aspects of the mitigation work not deemed essential this year. Eventually, the unapproved trail will be taken out, but at some public expense, Schiffer said.
The forest service is not anti-ATV, as ATVs can be ridden in designated areas where posted. However, “if it’s not signed ‘open,’ you can’t do it there,” Schiffer said.
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