A couple from Sonoma, California, has been fined almost $600,000 for uprooting an almost two-century-old oak tree from their property.
The couple, named as Peter and Toni Thompson, were sued by the Sonoma Land Trust for felling the ancient tree and other vegetation on their propert despite it being protected under a conservation easement, USA Today reported. The couple had originally planned to move the tree from the 34-acre property they bought to a location closer to the new ranch home they had built on the estate.
Unfortunately for the couple, the tree died during the attempted move.
Sonoma Land Trust Director Bob Neale said the couple were aware of the conservation easement when they first acquired the property. However, the agency discovered the damage to the tree in 2014, and legal proceedings have been ongoing ever since. The damage was first reported by a neighbor of the couple, who spotted heavy machinery and digging going on in the vicinity of the tree. When Neale went to investigate, he said he discovered that more than 3,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock had been removed, and that the tree itself had been uprooted.
The couple did not possess a permit for the work.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Patrick Broderick ruled that the Thompsons had “knowingly and intentionally” broken the conservation rules, saying they demonstrated “arrogance and complete disregard for the mandatory terms of the easement.”
The judge then slapped the couple with a $586,000 fine, which includes costs for environmental restoration and legal fees.
Not surprisingly, the Thompsons plan to appeal the ruling, as they argue that the damage to the tree was not intentional.
“They went into this area because they appreciated the pastoral nature of it, the scenic beauty of it,” Richard Freeman, the couple’s attorney, told The Washington Post. “They wouldn’t have wanted to do anything that was going to cause harm, damage, or scar it.”
In any case, the couple is also looking to move on. Their property is now up for sale, priced at a cool $8.45 million.