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Felony Conviction for Easement Violators

February 16, 2011 | Washington, D.C.

In what may have been the first felony conviction in America for violation of a conservation easement and cutting trees on state-owned land, two Vermont men received suspended sentences for illegally cutting a backcountry ski trail measuring 20- to 60-feet wide and more than 2,000-feet long on Big Jay mountain in Vermont in summer 2007. The damage provoked outrage in the backcountry skiing and hiking community after the two men were caught with chainsaws in the Jay State Forest. The two pleaded no contest to felony unlawful mischief on the morning of their trial in April 2009.

Over the last 18 months, both men made restitution payments, and The Green Mountain Club, which co-holds the conservation easement with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, has received about $10,000 so far.  One man served some jail time for violating probation for failing to fulfill his community reparative board assignment (a research paper on leave no trace practices and a letter of apology) and for leaving the jurisdiction in violation of probation.  

Both men received suspended 18-36 month sentences but served 60 days with a work crew run by the Vermont Department of Corrections. The two were also barred from the Big Jay property during the terms of their probation. Some in the conservation community are concerned about one of the men skiing down the scar he cut, as he was glimpsed skiing at the adjacent Jay Peak Resort earlier this year.  He purportedly admitted publicly that  he is addicted to powder.  The other man, who apologized profusely to the State and to GMC, is not a skier and is not expected to return to Big Jay after this experience.

The plea agreement ended the state’s case against the men, who illegally cut nearly 1000 trees along a 20 to 60-foot-wide swath that extends more than 2,000 feet from the top of Big Jay, Vermont’s twelfth-highest peak. State officials estimate the cost of damage is nearly $50,000.

The scar the two men cut  “looked pretty good on a field visit this fall and is revegetating” according to Susan Shea of the Green Mountain Club who has been part of the team working over the last two years with the state, the adjacent Jay Peak Ski Resort and backcountry skiers to revegetate the cut area and to prevent skiing on the cut land. Once the young trees start to crest the snow pack in winter, they are especially susceptible to damage from skiers. Management of the area over the next ten years will be critical to restoring the area and erasing the scar from the mountain.

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