Breckenridge tree cutter fined $5,000 |

Breckenridge tree cutter fined $5,000

BRECKENRIDGE – Gene Gregory, who cut down dozens of old trees on U.S. Forest Service land abutting his upper Warrior’s Mark home in 2001, has agreed to pay a $5,000 fine and the salaries of Forest Service personnel to plant 56 new Englemann spruce trees on the public land.

Gregory came to this plea agreement in federal district court in Grand Junction Wednesday afternoon.

According to Forest Service special agent Luke Konantz, Gregory also is required to write a letter of apology for publication in the Summit Daily News.

The case has been under investigation for almost two years, since Gregory hired a contractor to remove 52 lodgepole pine trees. Gregory said he had the trees cut to decrease the fire danger to his home, which abuts the national forest.

Neighbors, however, say he did it to improve the value of his home, which at the time was on the market for about $1.5 million – and after the tree-cutting was offered at about $2.5 million, Konantz said.

Gregory has since sold the house.

“The real estate agent said it had nothing to do with the view,” the special agent said, adding that the trees, which measured from 6 to 15 inches in diameter, were worth about $1,200.

“The biggest thing is trying to get something to regrow there,” Konantz said. “You can’t replace what was there.”

Town officials learned that fact last year when resident Al Nilsson chopped down nine old-growth trees at his Goldflake Terrace home overlooking Carter Park.

He sold the home three days later to renowned sportscaster and “Tuesdays with Morrie” author Mitch Albom.

The two later offered to plant new trees on the property, but because the offer came from them and was not ordered by the town, they weren’t obligated to follow through.

Cutting down a tree without a permit is illegal within town limits.

The ordinance was drafted to preserve the mountain character and screen development from the valley below. Town staff members said they believe the removal of the trees has negatively impacted the natural landscape, the sense of mountain environment, screening and privacy.

Gregory’s property wasn’t within the town limits when the trees were cut. Warrior’s Mark citizens have since been annexed into the town.

Town staff also wondered if the punishment – Albom and Nilsson agreed to plant 18 new trees whose caliper inches equal that of the trees that were felled – was enough to deter others from cutting down trees without permission.

“People always figure they can get away with it,” Konantz said. “They think asking for forgiveness is easier than asking for permission.”

In Gregory’s case, however, Forest Service officials say the punishment fits the crime.

“For us, that’s reasonable,” Konantz said. “We think the message has been sent that you don’t cut the trees.”

The Forest Service doesn’t often have to deal with people illegally cutting trees, Konantz said. But trespassing is common, with estimates indicating that for every mile of Forest Service boundary, one to two people trespass on public land by building water lines, fences and roads.

It’s been almost two years since Gregory hired a contractor to remove the trees.

“It takes a long time to build a case,” Konantz said last year in regards to the delay. “They do it in an hour on TV. But they also have only one case they’re working on, and all the witnesses are within a mile of you.”

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