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Press Release

Oregon Man Sentenced for Depredation of Government Property in the Umatilla National Forest

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore.—John M. Wasson, 74, of Irrigon, Oregon, was sentenced today to five years’ probation including 60 days in a community corrections facility for misusing a mining claim on the North Fork of the John Day River in the Umatilla National Forest resulting in the depredation of government property. Wasson was also ordered to pay $28,817 in restitution.

"Like all Americans, Oregonians expect public lands to be protected from degradation and misuse. This defendant, over a series of years, treated Forest Service land as if it were his own, causing significant environmental damage," said Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. "We take these crimes seriously and will continue to pursue those who violate our shared resources."

"Our wild and scenic rivers are special places that hold many values for our public, while providing habitat and resources for a variety of species and ecosystems," said Eric Watrud, Umatilla Forest Supervisor. "I’m thankful for the professional support from DOJ to hold people accountable that ignore the rules on our public lands. Our National Forests provide a wide array of resources and benefits, which our multiple use mission sustains through wise use and permitted activities."

According to court documents, Wasson was the claimant on the Slippery Rocks Mining Claim, an unpatented claim giving him possessory interest in the site for prospecting, mining or processing operations. Beginning in 2012, Wasson developed a personal interpretation of mining laws that permitted him to take any action on the claim that he believed to be reasonably incident to his mining. Over a period of years, despite court orders, misdemeanor convictions and the U.S. Forest Service officials’ repeated attempts to work with Wasson to bring his conduct into compliance, Wasson’s misuse of the claim grew more expansive and egregious.

By 2017, Forest Service officials observed that Wasson established a semi-permanent encampment on the claim, violating Forest Service regulations prohibiting occupancy for more than 14 days in a 30 day period without Forest Service authorization. Wasson’s camp included three tents, one with a foundation Wasson constructed of treated lumber, sand and gravel; a camper; a truck and a pop-up outhouse. Wasson had constructed a new road to the claim by driving through a riparian area, compacting soil and native vegetation. Additionally, Wasson created a walking path across the John Day River and used plastic sheeting to line a wing dam he made to hold water. The plastic lining was catching and holding juvenile steelhead, preventing them from accessing the flowing portion of the river.

The Forest Service paid a hazardous waste disposal company more than $19,000 to remove three quarters of a ton of contaminated soil, 90 gallons of vegetable oil, and quantities of pesticides, insecticides and rodenticides from the campsite.

Wasson was previously found guilty of one count of depredation of government property in a four-day jury trial ending on November 8, 2018.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Forest Service and prosecuted by Jennifer Martin and John Brassell, Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the District of Oregon.

Updated March 8, 2019