Earl Bennett, age 72, was recently sentenced by U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher to serve one year of probation and pay $30,000 in restitution for the repair of a road he illegally built on Forest Service land near the Cathedral Peaks Subdivision near Crawford. Bennett had previously plead guilty to a Class B misdemeanor, for constructing a road, trail or other improvement on national forest system lands without special-use authorization, a contract or an approved operating plan.
According to court documents, including the stipulated facts contained in the plea agreement, on June 28, 2014, Bennett, while president of the Cathedral Peaks Ranch Landowner's Association (CPRLA), bulldozed a trail and created an unauthorized road on national Forest Service land adjacent to private property of another subdivision landowner. A witness observed the defendant on a bulldozer creating the road on Forest Service land. Later, it was determined that Bennett spent 11 hours using the bulldozer opening the road.
On Aug. 24, 2014, a Forest Service crew went to the site and confirmed there was nearly a mile of newly constructed road on national Forest Service land. The damage included soil and rock removal, erosion damage, hillside weakening, and numerous oak trees cut. The road created a dangerous risk of mudslide and endangers an individual's home, located below the damaged area.
"Destroying public land is selfish and steals from all of us," said U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer. "The U.S. Attorney's Offices works together with the Forest Service and local law enforcement to protect our public land."
"National forests are public lands; they belong to all of us to enjoy safely and responsibly," said USDA Forest Service special agent in charge Kent Delbon. "Constructing, placing or maintaining any kind of road, trail, structure, fence, enclosure, communication equipment, or other improvements on national forest system lands without permission is illegal and harmful to the environment."
This case was investigated by the U.S. Forest Service. The defendant was prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorney Jeremy Chaffin.