Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pronghorn Plant Plunderers Pay Up

Posted By on Wed, Dec 23, 2009 at 8:09 PM

If you wonder why some Central Oregonians think the word “developer” is a synonym for “parasite,” check out the news stories about Pronghorn that appeared Monday.

Seems the developers of the ritzy “resort” (I’m putting the word in quotation marks because it’s not really a resort but an ultra-high-end housing tract with a couple of golf courses) stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of plants – live ones and dead ones – from the adjacent BLM land.

According to The Oregonian, the US Attorney’s Office in Seattle filed a complaint against High Desert Development Partners Inc. charging that its work crews took “thousands of vegetative resources, including juniper trees, dead junipers often called ‘Ghost Trees,’ Idaho fescue grasses and sagebrush” and used them to landscape the golf courses.

A BLM spokesman said the work crews “also damaged about 250 acres of public lands … leaving holes in the ground and tire tracks,” according to The Bulletin’s account. 

The same day the feds filed the complaint, the defendants – although not admitting guilt — agreed to a $200,000 out-of-court settlement.

Back in 2004 the BLM gave Pronghorn a permit to collect 1,000 plants from nearby federal land. The permit expired in May 2005 and wasn’t renewed.

However, “Five months after the permit expired, BLM officials learned that Pronghorn still collected vegetation off the federal land and they notified Pronghorn’s director of agronomy that he was violating federal law, according to the government complaint,” The Oregonian reported. “Pronghorn was ordered to cease collecting plants.” Despite that warning, according to the complaint, Pronghorn crews kept pirating plants until June 2006.

(Delicious irony: The page of the Pronghorn website devoted to the Pronghorn Foundation declares: “We are all parts of a larger whole: our community, our ecosystem, our planet.”)

“The manager who supervised the removal of vegetation from BLM land is no longer employed by Pronghorn,” the government said in a statement about the case.

Well, that’s a relief. And it’s also good to know the government got some money as compensation for the stolen plants. (I’d like it better if Pronghorn was forced to dig them all up and put them back where they came from, but I guess that would be impractical.)

Two questions still bug me, though: Why in the hell were private “resort” developers allowed to help themselves to plants and other “vegetative resources” from public lands in the first place? And why didn’t somebody go to jail for this?

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