Man Gets 5 Months, $27,000 Fine For Carving Illegal ATV Trails

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A Montana man has been sentenced to five months’ prison time and ordered to pay $27,000 in fines and restitution for constructing an illegal ATV trail through the Gallatin National Forest.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn S. Ostby sentenced Francis Leroy McLain Jan. 14 following his guilty plea to damaging government property. In addition to the fines and prison time, concurrent with a Minnesota sentence, he drew a year of supervised release, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Montana office.

Court documents say the Forest Service received a call July 5, 2006, pointing authorities at the trail. A Forest Service patrol captain found the trail, which was over a mile long, the next day.

He followed ATV tracks leading from McLain’s property to and along the illegal trail, and found the fence between McLain’s property and Forest Service land had been cut, the wires were pulled back, and posts had been pulled out of the ground.

At the end of the trail he discovered evidence of recent chainsaw work and found two chainsaws and other trail construction tools. The captain noted the serial numbers on the chainsaws and later matched those serial numbers to McLain’s chainsaw purchase receipts.

During the investigation, one of McLain’s neighbors told the patrol captain that during a forest hike the previous November he noticed the ATV trail and saw a man cutting the trail.

The neighbor said when he approached, the man doing the cutting introduced himself as McLain and said he wanted to build a trail through the forest and across neighboring land so he could see more sights, animals, and wildlife. The neighbor saw McLain hide his chainsaw and ride off on his ATV on the trail.

Experts who examined the trail – including a timber cruiser, a lands specialist and a soil scientist – determined that it was about 6 feet wide and nearly 1.5 miles long. There was substantial damage to adjacent trees, downed trees had been piled into small decks. The experts estimated that the cost of disposing of the bucked material would be $7,627 and the cost of restoring the land’s productivity and preventing erosion would be $25,948.

Because there is no parole in the federal system, the “truth in sentencing” guidelines mandate that McLain will likely serve all of the time imposed by the court. Although he could get up to a 15% reduction for good behavior.