« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Published July 19 2011

Man faces fine, jail time for spraying orchids

FARGO – The federal case against Matthew Thomas Ray Hanson isn’t one of guilt or innocence.

He already pleaded guilty in May to charges that his company, Super Sprayers, illegally sprayed weed killer in the Sheyenne National Grasslands near Lisbon, damaging nearly 200 endangered orchids.

Hanson faces a $500 fine and/or up to six months in federal prison for the “petty offense” – but it was a far more complex issue that governed the start of Hanson’s sentencing hearing Monday.

How much Hanson ought to pay for the damage caused in the grasslands remains a tense point of contention between Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Hayden and Hanson’s defense attorney, Rick Henderson.

After about two hours of hearing witness testimony on Monday, federal Magistrate Judge Karen K. Klein granted a continuance to Hanson’s sentencing hearing so both attorneys have more time to review new evidence, including recent photos of the damaged orchids.

Federal prosecutors said an employee with Hanson’s company, Super Sprayers, destroyed 197 western prairie fringed orchids while spraying weed killer in June 2010 in roadside ditches in Ransom County. The orchid is protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Two employees at the National Grasslands testified Monday for federal prosecutors in an attempt to demonstrate the extent and permanence of the damage caused by the weed-killer spray.

The sprayer covered a swath nearly 20 feet wide on either side of Highway 27, stretching 3½ miles on the north side of the roadway and three miles on the south side, Range Manager Stacy Swenson testified.

District Ranger Bryan Stotts said within two weeks of the spraying, the orchids already appeared to be wilting and drooping. This spring, Stotts said only a fraction of the original orchids bloomed again. He believes it is because of the spraying.

Stotts testified he believes the orchids are likely dead, since other orchids in the grasslands are blossoming unusually well this year.

Henderson repeatedly objected to Stotts’ testimony, claiming Stotts – a biologist and longtime employee with federal land agencies – was not qualified to answer specific questions and that some details of his testimony was not disclosed in advance of Monday’s hearing. Klein still allowed Stotts’ statements.

When Henderson later presented photos taken by Super Sprayers two weeks ago, Hayden also objected with the same argument, since the photos were not shared with him before the hearing. That objection sparked the request for a delay, which Klein granted.

Klein said she wants Hayden and Henderson to agree on the extent of the damage, and if they can’t, a court-ordered expert could analyze it and help determine a basis for the amount of restitution Hanson should pay.

“I want to make my decision based on what the damage is here,” she said.

Hanson’s sentencing will be re-scheduled for a later date.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541