Don't bet against a land trust

Alaska is beautiful. Its pristine lands and waters are breathtaking. And in many cases, we have Great Land Trust to thank for keeping them that way.

By Leslie Ratley-Beach January 26

But despite the best intentions and excellent work, neighbors don’t always respect property lines. Case in point: Great Land Trust was dismayed to discover during an annual visit to one property in 2017 that a trespasser tore large gaps in the contiguous forest that the land trust stewards. Among the greatest ruin was the cutting of 350 trees, along with the dumping, spreading and compacting of 28 dump truck loads of gravel. This gravel and associated trespassing crushed the forest vegetation, creating dead zones. Moreover, the rift in the pristine tree canopy was equivalent to removing 900 trees.

The loss was heartbreaking.

After extensive investigation by experts in the course of ensuing litigation, the accumulated facts revealed a reckless trespass. The trespassers knew the land was conserved, yet they recklessly disregarded the rights of the land trust and landowner. Rather than honor land they knew to be conserved, the trespassers gambled that their profits would exceed any amount they might be forced to pay in damages. Great Land Trust was able to prove as much and recover sufficient funds to pay all its costs and also fund restoration of the land and trees.

Terrafirma Risk Retention Group paid more than $280,000 to fund the litigation. And though timber trespass is notoriously difficult and expensive to document sufficiently to generate awards, the case won a substantial settlement for Great Land Trust.

For Great Land Trust, this was an important victory. And it was a lesson for trespassers everywhere: Don’t bet against a land trust — especially one backed by Terrafirma.