MILBRIDGE, Maine — A local cattle rancher has been cited by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection with violating Maine’s Natural Resources Protection Act after he bulldozed and removed vegetation on more than 8 acres alongside Beaver Meadow Brook.
“I can’t recall a larger violation,” Jonathan Cullen of the DEP’s Division of Land Resource Regulation said Wednesday. “In terms of amount of wildlife habitat that has been disturbed, it is Maine’s largest violation.”
The violation requires George Rippere of Coyote Creek Farm to immediately mulch all disturbed areas within 75 feet of Beaver Meadow Brook and file for an after-the-fact Natural Resources Protection Act permit application. Cullen said he expects a fine to be levied, but would not indicate how much it would be. He said a consent agreement between DEP and Rippere was still being negotiated and should be finalized within the next month.
Cullen said land use violations are assessed fines ranging from between $100 and $1,000 per day, starting on the day the violations are discovered and amassing until the violations are resolved.
Rippere began buying up land just north of Milbridge in 2006 to establish a cattle ranch, horse arena and boarding facility, and camping area. He markets his beef and pork through local farmers markets, the Internet and by selling directly to two local Hannaford supermarkets in Milbridge and Columbia.
Beyond its livestock operation, the 250-acre Coyote Creek farm — which is about a mile from Route 1 on Beaver Brook Road — has an interesting history. On its land once stood the beginnings of the village of Milbridge. Early settlers had a dozen houses, a blacksmith shop, a schoolhouse and a network of roads on the side of a wooded ridge along the brook. Many of the buildings are clearly marked on maps as recent as 1862.
Reached by telephone Wednesday in Florida, where he was resting because of some medical problems, Rippere said that after a visit by a ranger with the Maine Forest Service over a year ago, he believed he could continue to reclaim former pastureland that had grown over. Rippere, however, did not recall the ranger’s name and does not have any paperwork verifying that visit or conversation.
“I put in to the Maine Forest Service for a change of use from a woodlot to pasture,” Rippere said. Town documents verify that he effectively removed his property from tax-sheltered tree growth status. “I believed I was all ready to go.”
Regardless of the status of Rippere’s land, he failed, however, to either contact DEP or seek a DEP permit for changes he was making to the landscape.
Rippere maintains that he was reclaiming land that had been in pasture for generations. Cullen does not disagree but said that the designation of the land changed with the adoption in 2006 of the Maine Inland Waterfowl and Wading Bird Habitat Program. That program requires a 250-foot wide buffer zone around all significant habitats, which includes a significant portion of Rippere’s land.
The DEP notice of violation, served on Oct. 6, states that a large portion of Rippere’s land lies within a significant waterfowl and wading bird habitat area, where ducks, geese, herons and other similar species live and nest. Rippere is charged with bulldozing 7.2 acres and removing all vegetation from an additional 1.4 acres between 2009 and this fall.
Soil was also bulldozed and removed within 75 feet of Beaver Meadow Brook. Cullen said he visited Rippere’s farm in 2008, saw some disturbance of the land and told Rippere to stop his land work.
“I thought it was all done,” Cullen said. “He has plenty of upland. If he had cleared that property, DEP would not have had a problem.”
But another complaint was received by the DEP this summer and Cullen made two site visits in September. He said he was “very concerned” with the continued clearing of habitat that he found.
Rippere, however, remembers Cullen’s visit differently. He said the area Cullen expressed concern about was upland from the brook. “He told me to install a fence away from the brook and I complied,” he said. Rippere said he was shocked when Cullen returned this summer and told him to halt all land work. “I truly thought I was acting in compliance with all regulations,” Rippere said.
He added that a substantial fine would shut down his farm and that he would abandon his plans for future development of the property.
“With this action, I will effectively be put out of business,” Rippere said.