A northern California couple was ordered to pay nearly $600,000 after uprooting a 180-year-old tree for their new home – ultimately killing the heritage oak – a judge ruled.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Patrick Broderick issued the ruling in April, which was finalized last week, and sided with a nonprofit that sued the couple for the damage they caused to the tree and other vegetation on the property protected under a conservation easement.
In 2014, Sonoma Land Trust Stewardship Director Bob Neale went to visit the recently bulldozed property, he told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
He had seen photos of the damage, but "it’s nothing compared to actually seeing it," he told the newspaper. "I was not prepared."
Three thousand cubic yards of dirt and rock had been removed from the previously undisturbed 34-acre property, court records show. The couple removed the tree so it could be placed on an adjoining plot of land with their new home.
The oak was bound, a road was bulldozed through and a dozen other trees and vegetation were uprooted, according to court documents.
Much of the vegetation, including the 180-year-old oak and two other trees, died, yet none of the work was done with a permit on the protected land, court records show.
"It was really the most willful, egregious violation of a conservation easement I’ve ever seen," Neale told the Press Democrat.