Brothers face $450,000 in penalties for removing trees from their property
CANTON TWP., MI -- Brothers Gary and Matt Percy could face nearly half a million dollars in penalties for removing more than 1,400 trees from their property without permission from Canton Township.
The two own a 16-acre property off of Yost Road, east of Belleville Road in Canton Township with the intention of creating a Christmas tree farm on the plot, according to their attorney, Michael J. Pattwell.
The land was filled with "invasive plants like phragmites, buckthorn and autumn olive," he said.
But the township requires land owners to gain permission and promise new tree plantings before cutting down existing forestry, especially for landmark or historic trees.
Canton Township defines 'trees' as 'any woody plant with at least one well-defined stem and having a minimum diameter at breast height of three inches.' The Percy parcel was used historically by a local farmer for dairy pasture, so much of the vegetation on the parcel was invasive buckthorn, scrub brush and dead ash trees."
The Percy brothers believed they were exercising a state and local exemption for farming when they cleared the land, but city officials arrived on-site and signaled immediately their intention to levy big fines in excess of $700,000," Pattwell said. "But that's not what this case is about. We are talking here about a parcel of former pasture land surrounded entirely by industrial activity.
"This case is about misguided overreach. It is unavoidably about whether people who own property are allowed to use it ... We contend the Percy brothers exercised a farming exemption in the local tree removal law to clear the historic pasture behind their business and develop a Christmas tree farm."
It's frustrating how local farmers suffer due to this, but big corporations seem to get away with most everything.
Down at the end of our private dirt road, 8 acres was purchased. It was beautiful old forest with hemlocks that were 4+feet in diameter, and a wetland. We were told by the buyer "Oh, I'm just putting a house. I'm not a developer." I kept checking the permit zoning map to make sure. Then they brought in the logging equipment "Oh, we're just cutting down some trees for a driveway."
The next day we walk down there, and they're doing massive clearing. Finally the truth comes out. They were logging the WHOLE eight acres, even the wetlands. They'd filed for a logging permit, which comes from the state and so doesn't show up on the county website. Tribes cities away from us were notified of the permit, and a tiny note was put in the local newspaper, but none of us were told.
Then they left, after raping the land, breaking the lock on my neighbors port-a-potty to use it, not patcing the gravel road they drove over repeatedly with heavy trucks, and leaving trash over the land, and piling all left all the cedar and hemlock branches in giant piles as fire hazards.
They also then put the thing up for sale. They haven't even replanted the forest--supposedly they have 2 years to do that, so they just hope to sell it so they don't have to put the time and effort to heal the land they raped.
Come to find out, they ARE developers, and real estate agents, and so know how to work the system to rape the land for profit and face no consequences.
I feel like it's more a case of the rules not being clear. Zoning exists for a reason. I don't want to buy rural property just to have a suburban development built next door. But the rules should be clear, and in my experience, often they are not.
I appreciate that when a housing development was built in a previously undeveloped section in the SF Bay Area, the developers were required to save most of the very old native oak trees. And I think it's okay that a city plants and takes care of street trees, but these things need to be clearly defined.
The idea of land ownership is, I believe, one of the largest problems we face as a society.
On one end you have people trying to do something useful with the land... on the other you have people who come in and clear it to line their pockets then dump it once done.
People need access to the land to live. We depend on mother earth for water, for shelter, for food, and for everything else.
I've studied law for a very long time and I think that one of our largest problems is that law covers land ownership. The native americans had a better system... the tribe/community that took care of and lived on the land were it's stewards. No one "owned" it. The idea of selling land was outside of their worldview.
We, on the other hand let not only people, but corporations, "own" the land. We then turn around and have different groups try to tell those who supposedly own it tell them what they can and cannot do with it... typically with the goal of money in mind even if they claim it is for some other reason.
Personally, I'd love to see us move towards making it so that only people could own land (no legal entities such as corporations or governments). Legal entities would have to lease land from "the people" (e.g. they would pay for the use of the land and have to get permits to do things such as clear the land, etc.). People who wanted more land for use would have to lease land from "the people" at a minimal rate so long as they were making use of the land. If someone wanted 500 acres for a farm they would pay a nominal fee so long as they actually farmed the land in a reasonable manner and showed that they were being good stewards.
Of course, this would require a huge shift in thinking and would still be problematic. I suspect that the ideal situation is what most native peoples have used forever. Everyone shares the land and those who want to make use of it approach their local community to seek advice and make proposals. People would be free to make homesteads but need to figure out where a good place might be. This of course would require leaders rather than rulers... people who were well respected by the majority of those they knew and could be dismissed at any time if no longer trusted.
I feel for the brothers starting a tree farm (not that I think we need more christmas tree farms...) and for Nicole. Different problems from the same source.
There are two types of people in the world: Those who want to be left alone and those who will not leave them alone.
Just a heads up, everyone. I noticed this thread is getting a bit into politics, which seems pretty on topic, but definitely more in the realm of "Politics" than "Trees," so I moved this over to the cider press. I'm pretty sure everyone has enough apples to be here.
Consider this a little reminder that we all have to be super nice in the Cider Press