Man convicted for forest damage in Gunnison County

A Colorado man was convicted on federal charges this week for destroying reclamation work done by the Forest Service in Gunnison County after he built an unauthorized pond, federal authorities say.

U.S. Magistrate Gordon Gallagher found Joseph Scott Wagner, 56, of Broomfield, guilty of two counts of damaging a natural feature or other federal property and one count of removing a natural feature or other property, the United States Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Forest Service said in Department of Justice news release.

The case was tried over two days in October. Sentencing has yet to be scheduled.

Wagner owns property adjacent to the Gunnison National Forest in southeastern Gunnison County. The property is what Wagner calls the Waunita Hot Springs. It’s near the separately owned Waunita Hot Springs Ranch.

According to the news release, Wagner built the pond in 2008 partly on Forest Service land, and without its permission. When it found out, the agency determined the pond must be filled, the topsoil replaced and the land contoured and seeded.

The Justice Department said lengthy negotiations at the time led to an assessment of $15,304.75 against Wagner to cover a portion of the costs. It said it also was determined he had to remove several structures he illegally built or placed on Forest Service land.

It said the reclamation work was done in 2011, but as Forest Service personnel were finishing it, Wagner appeared in a skid loader and began to run over part of the project area, and seeded topsoil was removed.

He was issued violation notices in November 2011, but this April the Forest Service learned that even more damage had been done, including smoothing the area and removing contours that had been created during reclamation to prevent erosion, the Justice Department said.

Altogether, Wagner damaged about 70 percent of the reclaimed area, it said.

“As the facts presented at trial proved, the defendant intentionally ignored the law and treated the public lands as his own property,” U.S. Attorney John Walsh said in the release.

Wagner could not be reached for comment.



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