DES MOINES, IOWA (January 30, 2020) — A judge has ordered a Moravia lumber company to pay the state $25,718.50 after finding it had cut down dozens of trees in Stephens State Forest in Lucas County.
Moravia Hardwoods LLC is also banned from buying timber for one year after its owner lied to the state on a bond-renewal application, Fifth District Judge Martha L Mertz ruled this week.
“This was an unusual case, and our attorneys worked with the Department of Natural Resources to return the value of what was taken from Iowans,” Attorney General Tom Miller said. “Both of our agencies take seriously our duty to protect and preserve our state’s forests.”
In late 2013, private landowners sold to Moravia Hardwoods the rights to harvest timber on their property, which abuts the Chariton Unit of Stephens State Forest. Moravia Hardwoods marked the trees it wanted, and then directed loggers to cut the trees. One of the loggers testified he cut only marked-trees but discovered he was cutting on state land and informed Moravia.
The Department of Natural Resources learned of the matter when a DNR technician saw numerous fresh stumps in the state forest and photographed a Moravia Hardwoods truck with loaded logs.
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the DNR, sued Moravia Hardwoods and its owners, Terrance Spurgin and his son, Paul, alleging Moravia Hardwoods willfully removed the trees.
A forestry expert found that 131 trees, mostly white and red oak and black walnut, were cut in the state forest worth $25,718.50.
Jessica Flatt, the area forester overseeing management of Stephens State Forest, testified that it would take years to restore the loss to the forest.
Moravia Hardwoods denied any responsibility and claimed the cutting of the state trees, if it did take place, was unintentional.
Judge Mertz accepted the state’s estimate of the commercial value of the trees and ruled that Moravia Hardwoods was responsible. She found that the tree removal was not willful and declined to award the state additional damages.
Mertz also found that Terrance Spurgin lied on his company’s 2014 bond-renewal application. A timber-buyer’s bond is calculated based, in part, on the amount paid to timber-growers for the preceding year. Moravia paid $40,000 for the one timber-harvest near Stephens State Forest, but the application states Moravia paid a total of $32,450 to timber-growers for that entire year.
“This is clearly a false statement,” Mertz said in her ruling, and ordered the forfeiture of Moravia’s timber-buyer’s bond and prohibited the company from engaging in timber-buying for one year.