Four men — two from Maine and two from Massachusetts — were each ordered Friday to pay a $1,500 fine after admitting that they had trespassed on a federal wildlife preserve located on a Knox County island.
Thomas Wengler, 59, of South Dennis, Massachusetts; Peter Johnson, 58, of Littleton, Massachusetts; Benjamin “Tucker” Thompson, 59, of Freeport; and Clayton Witham, 58, of Owls Head pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor charge before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Rich III in federal court in Portland.
The men went onto Metinic Island, part of the plantation of Matinicus Isle, in August 2018, according to court documents. That part of the island is closed to the public from April through August. They camped overnight in the refuge with their families, pitched tents, mowed grass and built a fire, according to the prosecution’s version of events to which they pleaded guilty.
All of the defendants except Witham were charged in August 2012 for similar conduct. Witham, a lobsterman in the area, owns land that abuts the refuge, according to court documents.
Metinic Island is located about 7 miles from St. George, a mainland Knox County town. The island is the nesting area to several hundred pairs of nesting seabirds — including eiders, common and Arctic terns, black guillemots, and Leach’s storm-petrels — according to Friends of the Maine Coastal Islands, a nonprofit conservation group. Metinic Island is also home to a substantial population of privately owned grazing sheep.
The state developed a resource plan for the island in 1992 designed to protect seabirds and nesting habitats. That same year, the federal government began acquiring parcels on the island and incorporating them into the larger Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses 8,200 acres on 61 islands and other coastal parcels.
The defendants faced up to 180 days in prison and fines of up to $5,000 on the trespassing charges.