Gold miner John Wasson is leaving his claim in the Umatilla National Forest for a 60-day stint in jail.
Wasson, 74, of Irrigon, has been fighting the federal government in court since 2013 over how long he could live on Slippery Rock, a 12-acre site on the North Fork John Day River. He lost that fight in November 2018 when a jury in federal court found him guilty of depredation of government property, a felony.
“Beginning in 2012, Wasson developed a personal interpretation of mining laws that permitted him to take any action on the claim that he believed to be reasonably incident to his mining,” according to the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon. “Over a period of years, despite court orders, misdemeanor convictions and the U.S. Forest Service officials’ repeated attempts to work with Wasson to bring his conduct into compliance, Wasson’s misuse of the claim grew more expansive and egregious.”
Wasson returned to court Tuesday to face sentencing, and U.S. Judge Michael H. Simon sentenced him to five years probation, including 60 days in a community corrections facility for the crime. The court also ordered Wasson to pay $28,817 in restitution.
Billy J. Williams, U.S. attorney for the District of Oregon, said in a written statement Oregonians expect public lands to be protected from degradation and misuse and Wasson “treated Forest Service land as if it were his own, causing significant environmental damage.”
He also stated his office takes these crimes seriously and will “continue to pursue those who violate our shared resources.”
Forest Service officials by 2017 observed Wasson established a semi-permanent encampment on the claim, violating regulations that prohibit occupancy for more than 14 days in a 30-day period without Forest Service authorization. Wasson’s camp included three tents, one with a foundation Wasson constructed of treated lumber, sand and gravel; a camper; a truck and a pop-up outhouse. Wasson had driven through a riparian area, compacting soil and native vegetation, to make a new road, according to federal prosecutors, and he created a walking path across the John Day River and used plastic sheeting to line a wing dam to hold water.
That dam, however, caught and held juvenile steelhead, preventing them from accessing the flowing portion of the river.
The Forest Service paid a hazardous waste disposal company more than $19,000 to remove three quarters of a ton of contaminated soil, 90 gallons of vegetable oil and quantities of pesticides, insecticides and rodenticides from the campsite.