Man fined $10,000 for cutting down eagle tree

Gordon Knight of Campbell River had a faller take down the tree even though he knew it had an bald eagle's nest

A Campbell River man will pay a $10,000 fine for cutting down an eagle tree.

Gordon Knight agreed to pay the fine which will go to the Habitat Conservation Trust to be used to rehabilitate injured birds or to improve avian habitant on Northern Vancouver Island.

The 63-year-old automotive dealer appeared in provincial court Friday after earlier pleading guilty to destroying a bald eagle’s nest under the Wildlife Act.

“Your honour, I take ownership of the tree…I don’t blame anyone else,” he told Judge Brian Saunderson.

Knight lives on the Island Highway near Rockland Road and has several old growth trees on his property. One of those Douglas firs had a large eagle’s nest which was registered as an “eagle tree” with local government.

Knight knew the eagle’s nest was there and had, at one time, asked a faller for an estimate to fall some trees on the property. The faller informed Knight the eagle tree was registered and was not prepared to cut it down.

Then, on Feb. 20, 2012, Knight brought in another faller to get an estimate. Five days later, the faller returned and cut down the eagle tree while Knight was away home.

The downed tree, which contained a large bald eagle’s nest, was reported to the city’s environmental co-ordinator, Terry Martin, who then contacted Conservation Officers.

According to federal Crown prosecutor John Blackmon, there’s a “real concern” for the viability of local eagle populations which is why trees with nests are registered for protection.

He said the charge of destroying a nest is seldom laid. The last case Blackmon recalled prosecuting was in 2000 and the guilty man paid the maximum fine of $5,000.

Since then the maximum penalty has increased to $100,000 and one year in jail. Blackmon noted that Knight’s fine is at the low-end of the spectrum, but is still substantial.

The fine was presented as a joint submission by the Crown and the defence to Judge Saunderson who accepted the proposal and gave Knight 18 months to pay.

“The fine and the payment is significant and appropriate given the circumstances,” said defence lawyer Brian Dybawd. “The seriousness and the gravity of the situation is not lost on Mr. Knight…it is his hope this raises awareness because of this action.”

The long-time car dealer and grandfather never disputed the fact he was responsible for the tree and nest coming down, and said he’s learned a lot.

“I had quite the eye-opening experience. Even at my age you can still learn,” said Knight.