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Man pleads guilty to criminal mischief after excavating protected forest for his own use: 'Mandated to be a part of the solution or face jail time'

Over several months, his clearcutting caused nearly $20,000 worth of damage.

Over several months, his clearcutting caused nearly $20,000 worth of damage.

Photo Credit: iStock

A New York man who was hoping to create his own "hangout spot" in nature by chopping down protected trees has been handed what some call a "fitting punishment" — helping to restore and remediate the land he destroyed.

Terence Wolffe pleaded guilty to criminal mischief after committing a series of bizarre actions, The Daily Voice reported, which included cutting down over 1,100 square feet of native trees and vegetation in Suffolk County's Nesconset Park. Over several months, his clearcutting caused nearly $20,000 worth of damage — and that doesn't include the cost of restoring the area.

According to prosecutors, the motive was simple: to create a personal "hangout spot."

Not only did Wolffe chop down trees and plants, but he also dug up brush and soil, which he then piled in another section of land. This smothered other plants outside of his prospective "hangout spot." 

Prosecutors also pointed out that he had hacked at certain areas so deeply that water flow was redirected from nearby wetlands, endangering the protected animals of that habitat as well as those of the forest.

Unfortunately, this is far from the first example of carelessness in America's protected natural areas — even more frustratingly, it's often intentional. From people blatantly driving across fields of wildflowers, to visitors smashing ancient rock formations, people taunting wildlife to get a selfie, millionaires illegally bulldozing protected habitats on a whim, and more, there are seemingly endless ways that people delight in destroying nature.

To serve justice, Wolffe's judge mandated time spent in Suffolk County's "Evergreen Initiative," a program where violators spend time cleaning up and restoring the habitat they destroyed. Their work consists of activities from beach cleanups to maintaining parks, volunteering with the endangered species program, and more.

"This is the perfect balance of what we believe is the future of combating environmental crimes. Not only will this defendant have to pay for the damage he has done, but he is also mandated to be a part of the solution or face jail time," said Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney.

"Beyond simple remediation, this court-mandated comprehensive plan develops, cleans, and adds stewards of environmental care in Suffolk County." 

Other cases have resulted in similar punishments, though the primary goal remains preventing issues like this by educating visitors and residents about the importance of conservation.

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