Feds: Man causes $11K in damages to Umatilla National Forest

According to court records: John Wasson also set up illegal structures in the forest

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to prevent a man from entering the Umatilla National Forest until newly filed criminal charges get resolved, according to court documents.

John Wasson appeared before Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman in U.S. District Court on Wednesday in downtown Portland. He pleaded not guilty to one count of depredation of government property.

Beckerman granted the government's request to keep Wasson off federal land while on pretrial release.

Records show that Wasson is a miner and has set claim to an area of land along the North Fork John Day River. The land is located in an environmentally sensitive zone that contained endangered species.

"…Wasson's criminal conduct and unauthorized residence at this site has escalated since 2013," according to court documents. "This year he caused more than $11,000 in damage to the site."

Wasson, according to court documents, mines at a very low level – using only hand tools that can be stored in a truck bed. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals previously found that Wasson's "persistent and continual residency" at the site was "not ‘reasonably incident' to the limited scope of his mining activities."

Records show that Wasson was found guilty of occupying forest system lands without authorization and failing to dispose of sewage in 2013.

During several site visits, officials with the U.S. Forest Service found that Wasson had added structures to the site, including 2 large tents, a camper, a truck and a pop up outhouse, according to court documents. The USFS also found that Wasson built a semi-permanent foundation under one of the large tents and found a compacted road "devoid of grass and shrubbery," according to the court documents.

Records show that Wasson made an unauthorized wing dam that was catching and holding juvenile steel headfish, preventing them from accessing the flowing portion of the river.

When the USFS attempted to work with Wasson, he rejected their offers, records show.

On Oct. 12, federal law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at the Slippery Rock Mining Claim and the campsite allegedly set up by Wasson, according to court documents. A HAZMAT team removed an estimated 90 gallons of oil that Wasson was in the process of converting to biodiesel, according to court documents.

In seeking their order to prevent Wasson from accessing the forest land, the U.S. Attorney's Office stressed that Wasson's most recent actions at the site were not for mining, but rather to manufacture biodiesel along a protected river stream.

"His use of insecticides, rat traps and fertilizer jeopardized the area's fragile ecosystem," according to court documents. "His creation of a plastic sealed wing dam adversely affected juvenile fish."

Records show that had Wasson not removed his belongings prior to his arraignment on Oct. 25, the government was prepared to impound the items and structures.

Wasson's trial is set to start on Dec. 27.

KOIN 6 News had been unable to reach Wasson for comment. Late Thursday he reached out to KOIN. We will have additional details on his version of events on Friday when we speak with him during a phone interview.


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