Trespasser fined $80,000 for unauthorized road construction in BLM Wilderness Study Area
DENVER – Today, the United States Attorney for the District of Colorado, John F. Walsh, announces the recovery of $80,000 as part of a settlement of allegations that Andrew VanDenBerg constructed a road in the Whitehead Gulch Wilderness Study Area without obtaining authorization from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Wilderness Study Areas are public land under wilderness review, and are managed by the BLM in a manner that maintains the area’s suitability for preservation as wilderness. As a Wilderness Study Area, this area was considered to be roadless, meaning that, prior to the trespass, there were no roadways maintained by mechanical means.
In 2008, the BLM discovered the newly constructed road built across about one mile of BLM lands in San Juan County. VanDenBerg used mechanical equipment to construct the trespass road for vehicular access to his patented mining claim, removing all topsoil, litter and under story vegetation. Hundreds of trees of all sizes were cut, creating an unnatural corridor from 10 to 20 feet wide.
The trespass road followed the general alignment of the Whitehead Trail and overlapped the trail in most places. The entire trespass road corridor is classified as winter foraging habitat for Canada lynx, a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and suitable for classification as lynx denning habitat.
“Wilderness Study Areas are pristine and special places, protected by law” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. “Chainsaws and excavators in these areas illegally rip the wild out of the wilderness. Trespassers who damage our public lands must pay for the damage they have done.”
“The BLM's management policy for unauthorized impacts to lands under wilderness designation is to immediately reclaim impacts to a level as close as possible to the original condition or at least to a condition that is substantially unnoticeable,” said Helen Hankins, BLM Colorado State Director. “The impacts from this trespass are so significant that achieving a ‘substantially unnoticeable’ condition in the short term is not possible.”
A settlement was reached whereby VanDenBerg will pay $80,000 for reclamation. The settlement agreement, facilitated by Assistant United States Attorney Amanda Rocque, is not as an admission of liability, wrongdoing or guilt on the part of VanDenBerg or a concession by the United States that its claims were not well founded. In addition to the monetary settlement, VanDenBerg also agreed to an order prohibiting him from further trespass.
This case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Rocque.