A couple from Northern California’s attempt to relocate a nearly 200-year-old oak tree from one of their properties to another one has resulted in a $586,000 fine. The judge who slapped them with the fine cited the couple’s “arrogance” and “complete disregard” of legally binding conservation terms in his defense of the stunningly steep punishment.
The couple owned two adjacent properties, one of which included a conservation easement upon which the 180-year-old oak tree was located. (Note: Oak tree pictured above is not the one removed.) The tree was under the protection of a conservation agreement which the judge says the couple “knowing[ly] and intentional[ly]” violated.
“The case against Peter and Toni Thompson reportedly started in 2014, when a concerned neighbor reported heavy equipment and digging on a property protected under a conservation easement,” CBS San Francisco reported Wednesday. “Court documents show a Sonoma Land Trust official found more than 3,000 cubic yards (2,300 cubic meters) of dirt and rock had been removed and a 180-year-old oak tree had been uprooted.”
The couple attempted to relocate the tree and others to another home they had built on an adjacent property. Unfortunately for the tree, and the couple, the attempt to keep it alive in the relocation process failed. Not only did the tree die, a dozen or so others and vegetation along the path they bulldozed died as well. ABC News reports:
The heritage oak was uprooted and bound so that it could be dragged to an adjoining ranch where property owners Peter and Toni Thompson had built a new estate home. That heritage oak and two others the landowners sought to move over a haul road they bulldozed through the previously undisturbed site all died, along with a dozen more trees and other vegetation, according to court records.
According to the Sonoma Land Trust, the couple also dumped soil onto the protected land from a lake they dredged on their adjacent property.
In response, the Sonoma Land Trust sued the couple for violating their conservation contract, and a superior court judge agreed, condemning the Thompsons for their “arrogance” and “complete disregard” for the easement terms.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Patrick Broderick agreed with the trust that the Thompsons committed “knowing and intentional” violations of their conservation deal, ABC notes. Broderick also made a point of blasting the couple for having “demonstrated an arrogance and complete disregard for the mandatory terms of the easement.”
The $586,000 fine is intended to go to restoring the damaged property — though obviously sans the irreplaceable 180-year-old oak.
After the judge issued the ruling, the couple decided to go ahead and sell their estate for $8.45 million, CBS reports.
The couple is currently seeking a retrial because they say their attorney could not properly represent them as a result of a family matter that arose amid the trial.
“There are so many personal tragic issues throughout this case that were very painful to deal with and actually really affected the ability to tell our side of the story,” Peter Thompson said in a statement reported by ABC. “In our opinion, there’s a lot of evidence that our side of the story really didn’t get a chance to explain.”