Man found guilty of altering and damaging Forest Service lands within the Gunnison National Forest
DENVER – Joseph Scott Wagner, aka “Scott Wagner”, age 56, of Broomfield, Colorado, was found guilty Monday of two counts of damaging a natural feature or other property of the United States and one count of removing a natural feature or other property of the United States, the United States Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Forest Service announced today. The guilty verdict was handed down by U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher. The case was tried before Magistrate Judge Gallagher on October 17 and October 29, 2012. The court has not yet scheduled a sentencing date.
On January 3, 2012 Wagner was given a violation notice by the Forest Service. On that same date the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed an Information charging him with the crimes listed above. On September 20, 2012 the United States sought a superseding Information adding an additional count of causing damage to forest system land.
According to the facts presented during the trial, as well as facts contained in the government’s first closing argument, Joseph Scott Wagner owns property in Gunnison County, which is adjacent to the west and north to an area of National Forest System land, managed by the U.S. Forest Service. According to the trial evidence, sometime in 2008 the defendant constructed an unauthorized pond partially on U.S. Forest Service land. In the summer of 2008, a Forest Service employee discovered the pond and informed his supervisor, who confirmed that Wagner did not have a permit to construct such a pond. The supervisor went to the area, reviewed the damage, and confronted Wagner, stating that the matter was being turned over to law enforcement.
After assessing the damage, the USFS determined the pond must be filled, the topsoil recovered and replaced, and the land contoured and seeded in order to rehabilitate the area. Lengthy negotiations concluded with an assessment of $15,304.75 against Wagner, to be paid to the U.S. Forest Service for a portion of the reclamation costs rehabilitate the damage.
Prior to the beginning of the reclamation project, it was determined that Wagner must remove several structures that he had illegally built or placed on Forest System land. The defendant thus received a temporary special use permit issued for the specific purpose of removing the structures. It was also determined that the defendant would be required to build a fence on the western side of his property. The permit specifically prohibited the defendant from destroying or removing soil or vegetation from Forest Service land without specific prior written permission.
The reclamation work occurred from September 26 through September 28th, 2011, and entailed obtaining approximately 55 loads of fill material and then covering the entire area with existing topsoil. Forest Service employees designed the project such that they would never need to cross over onto the defendant’s property to complete the project. Pursuant to all parties’ agreement, the project did entail pushing some of the dirt over the defendant’s property line in order to facilitate his fence construction. After this work had been concluded, including the contouring, the entire area was seeded.
As Forest Service personnel were finishing the project, Wagner appeared in a skid loader and began to run over the portion of the completed project, destroying the just completed work. A Forest Service employee observed a pile of topsoil on the defendant’s property which had not been there the day before. He also observed that seeded topsoil had been removed from the area of the project. In essence, a large portion of the reclamation work had been destroyed.
On November 23, 2011, the Forest Service issued violation notices to Wagner for damaging and removing Forest System property. In April 2012, Forest Service employees noticed that even more damage had been done, including smoothing the area, eliminating the natural contours which had been carefully sculpted to prevent erosion. No seeds or growth was present. Approximately 70 percent of the original reclamation project area was damaged by Wagner’s actions.
The government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Wagner had, on two occasions, damaged Forest System property, and on one occasion removed same; specifically, the seeded topsoil which had been strategically placed at the reclamation project site. On both occasions, Wagner destroyed the work done by the USFS as they attempted to repair and reclaim the damage originally done by Wagner when he illegally dug a pond on the property. He removed seeded topsoil, smoothed the area flat and changed the water runoff pattern from that which the USFS designed. The second occasion of damage, discovered in April 2012, came even after the defendant was on notice that such behavior was in violation of Forest Service Regulations.
“We are pleased with the ruling by the court finding the defendant guilty in this case. As the facts presented at trial proved, the defendant intentionally ignored the law and treated the public lands as his own property,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. “Even after the U.S. Forest Service worked hard to reclaim the land damaged by the defendant, the defendant intentionally damaged it again. That blatant disregard for the law and for the rights of others warranted federal prosecution.”
“Wagner’s egregious actions resulted in significant resource damage that threatens water quality, wildlife habitat and riparian areas,” said Laura Mark, Special Agent in Charge for the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service. “We are very pleased with the outcome of this case. It demonstrates our commitment to protect our valuable natural resources.”
This case was investigated by the U.S. Forest Service.
Wagner is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer.