Tree sitters give outrageous jail sentences

Susan and Matt reported this morning to the Vinton County Sheriffís Department so that they can begin serving their sentences at the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail in Nelsonville.  For those of us who know Susan and Matt the injustice of either of them spending a single night in jail for exposing the abuses of the Ohio Division of Forestry (DOF) weighs heavily. 

Though the trial was often interrupted by the sounds of logging trucks making their daily rounds through downtown McArthur, a route which takes them directly in front of the Vinton County Court Houseís open windows, Matt and Susan were bold and brave as they faced Judge Grillo and the DOF.  During the trial the DOFís inept approach to management, particularly protecting the Federally Endangered Indiana Bat, was clearly revealed.  Under cross-examination Zaleski State Forest Manager Dick Lusk testified that the DOF did not follow the their own Indiana Bat Management Strategy at the King Hollow timber sale.  It was found that the DOF both failed to survey for the Indiana Bat as required by the plan, and allowed logging to occur during periods considered critical for the species survival.  Further, a bat expert testified that the Indiana Bat is facing accelerated declines, with 60% of the population lost since its listing as an Endangered Species and a projected 5% decline per year.  Yet, it was Matt and Susan that were found guilty.

The turning point in the trial came when Susan refused to name others who were allegedly involved in the tree-sit.  Because she felt the question was not relevant to the charge of trespass levied against her Susan would not answer the Prosecutorís question even after her Attorney objected to the line of questioning and was overruled by the Judge.  Susanís determination and conviction clearly startled both the Judge and Prosecutor, forcing over an hour of recess as the Prosecutor, Judge and Defense Attorney spoke privately.  When court reopened the Judge announced that both Susan and Matt had agreed to a plea-bargain that would force Susan to face the maximum penalty of 30 days in jail, a $250 fine, and she is being forced to pay $50 a day, up to $1500, for each day she serves.  While the amount of time and fine Susan is facing seems egregious she believes her actions were justified and does not regret her choice.  In fact Susan has stated that she feels empowered knowing that she was able to evoke the only real power she had in the trial by refusing to answer what she saw as an unnecessary question.  Matt was also sentenced to 30 days of jail with 23 of them suspended.  He will serve 7 days and be on probation for several months. 

We are all very proud of what Matt and Susan have been able to accomplish over the past few months.  Because of their heroic actions the people of Ohio know how their forests are being mistreated by the DOF, and there is now legislation being introduced in the State House that would impose a two-year moratorium on State Forest logging while the State Timber Sale Program is reviewed by an independent panel of scientists.  This is only the beginning of the accomplishments.  We at the Buckeye Forest Council will continue to support both Matt and Susan for the duration of their time in jail and beyond.  We will be updating this list with ways everyone can contribute and bring awareness to the issue Susan and Matt have fostered.  We feel now more than ever it is important to communicate our feelings to all those involved.  Iím including with this letter the address where Matt and Susan will be receiving mail.  This is their only real connection to the outside world so please send them your regards and words of encouragement (they are allowed only letters, no packages or books).  Also, following this letter are the addresses and phone numbers of several people you can voice your rage to. 

Matt & Susanís contact info:

Matt Glass or Susan Heitker, Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail, 16677 Riverside Drive, Nelsonville, OH 45764

Voice some rage:

Ron Abraham, Chief of Division of Forestry, 1855 Fountain Square, Building H-1, Columbus, OH 43224   ph. 614-265-6694

Samuel W. Speck, Director of Ohio Department of Natural Resources, 1930 Belcher Drive, Building 3, Columbus, OH 43224   ph. 614-265-6694

Governor Bob Taft, 77 South High Street, 30th fl, Columbus, OH   ph. 614-466-3555