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Homeless man gets six months for trashing Forest Service land

Collected 8,500 pounds of debris
Benjamin Yoho, 41, accumulated a heap of trash at his illegal home on U.S. Forest Service land north of Telluride near the Jud Wiebe Trail in the Uncompahgre National Forest. He was sentenced to six months in prison for living illegally on the land and trashing the forest.

A homeless man living north of Telluride has been sentenced to six months in prison for maintaining a structure on U.S. Forest Service land and amassing a pile of litter, about 8,500 pounds of it, around his makeshift home.

Benjamin Yoho, 41, was convicted of residing on Forest Service land, maintaining a structure on Forest Service land and leaving debris on Forest Service land, according to a news release issued Thursday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver. He was tried and convicted earlier this week during a one-day trial before U.S. Magistrate David L. West in Durango.

Yoho not only lived and maintained a structure on Forest Service land, he also transported large quantities of items from the Telluride “Free Box” to his makeshift home in the Uncompahgre National Forest. He hoarded about 8,500 pounds of debris from October 2014 through April 2015 near the Jud Wiebe Trail. It took 48 volunteers and a helicopter to remove the items in May.

“This was no ordinary case of littering in the national forest – this was full-scale trashing of the public lands and merited a term of incarceration,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh.

Living on Forest Service lands is illegal, poses a public-safety concern, can be harmful to wildlife and causes damage to resources and watersheds, said U.S. Forest Service Special Agent in Charge Laura Mark.

San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters said in the future, the public and law enforcement must be more vigilant in controlling abuses of the “Free Box” to make sure people aren’t using donated items for “criminal purposes.”

In addition to serving six months in federal prison, Yoho will serve one year on probation. Conditions of probation include his placement at a halfway house upon release from prison and a ban from Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands. The court also recommended that he receive mental-health treatment while in prison.

Restitution will be decided at a later date.

shane@durangoherald.com

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