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May 2001

Local Illegal Mountain Bike Trail Builders Indicted on Federal Charges

By Elena Belsky

The three illegal mountain bike trail builders who were caught in the act by Park Rangers on February 4, 2001, were officially indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in San Francisco on April 17, 2001. Michael More, 47 of San Rafael, William McBride, 50, of Ross, and Neal Daskal, 46, of Oakland, were charged with conspiracy to injure federal property and causing injury to federal property. Both charges are felonies. The maximum statutory penalty for conspiracy is five years in prison, a $250,00 fine, plus three years supervised release. For injuring federal property, the maximum penalties are 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Michael More was seen by Rangers unlawfully cutting trees on Park property, and was charged with a misdemeanor as well, with the maximum penalties being one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Many factors are involved in sentencing, and are ultimately at the discretion of the court.

The defendants used colored flags to delineate the route of illegal trail construction, hid tools nearby including shovels, saws, and loppers. They cut down trees and bushes as well as cut branches off larger trees; removed and destroyed plants and bushes, excavated and moved dirt, constructed rock retaining walls, and created "on ground" obstructions for bicycle "jumps."

As cited in the full Federal Grand Jury indictment (available on the US Attorney's website: www.usaondca.com), "The Department of Interior manages the GGNRA in accordance with the National Park Service Organic Act (NPSOA), which requires the National Park Service to promote the use of national parks, monuments, and reservations[in such a manner as] to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the [parks] by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." The National Park Service is authorized to create any necessary rules and regulations to achieve these goals.

One such rule is the prohibition on illegal, unauthorized, or unpermitted trails, paths or any other way across and through park areas. Cutting of trees on Federal property is also against the law. The conspiracy charges may be the most surprising of the Federal indictments, as this shows the Grand Jury found willful intent to "cause injury to federal property."

Although mentioned only briefly in the US Attorney's press release, "the defendants and others agreed to construct an illegal bicycle trail in the GGNRA." The "and others" phrase, through brief, is of significance because of the implication that the National Park Service's investigation turned up "others" that have not been charged with the original three defendants.

Undoubtedly, the investigation is ongoing, and there well may be further indictments of those "others" as the case progresses. Also, the possibility of plea bargaining for the three current defendants could produce additional information in exchange for a reduction in charges. Interestingly, mountain bike enthusiasts have for years, put up websites on the internet replete with blatant photographs of mountain bikers on new, and obviously illegal built trails, and even some carrying trail cutting tools. Often they only use first names, or nicknames under the photos and in the articles. In the time since Michael More, William McBride and Neal Daskal were caught in the act building the GGNRA illegal trail, at least two of these websites have disappeared off the internet.

The GGNRA is a pristine and special place, and is designated by the United Nations as a part of the Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve, "based on its significant biodiversity and ecological value."

The Bolinas Ridge area sustained damage where the illegal trail was built in an undeveloped Douglas fir and California Bay forest, which is critical habitat for the Threatened Northern Spotted owl. Erosion and sedimentation from bank cutting and dirt moving, especially when improperly conducted, are serious problems for the tributaries and main Lagunitas Creek, where threatened species such as coho salmon, steelhead trout, the California red-legged frog, and endangered California freshwater shrimp live. All are protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act, and violators of the law are subject to prosecution. The Act prohibits "take" of protected species, where a take is defined as "to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct."

National Park lands are an irreplaceable part of our natural resources and are a part of the public trust, to be preserved and held sacred for future generations. Whatever your views or preferences of recreational use of our parklands, it is clear that we as a society cannot afford to condone unlawful destruction of our nations wildlands for any reason.

 

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