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Hikers Help Catch Vandals Destroying Protected Forest

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Deputies at a national wildlife refuge say they have never seen anything like it -- and they hope they never see it again.

Some people have been slicing down dozens of trees in the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, which is about an hour northwest of the Twin Cities in Zimmerman.

Thirty-one-thousand acres of lush green land make up the refuge, and it's all federally protected.

Ron Chaffer, a retired New York City police officer, lives nearby.

"I love it. This is paradise to me out here, except in the winter," Chaffer said.

He says the refuge was a selling point when he relocated to Minnesota.

"That was one of the big reasons I wanted to live here. There's not going to be 18,000 houses over there like I would have in New York."

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge Tree Vandals
Trees damaged in the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge (credit: CBS)

But some people have been clearing the protected forest.

"It's a disgrace," Chaffer said. "Why would anybody want to do that?"

Deputy Refuge Manager Greg Dehmer says it has been a sight to see.

"It was a very strange situation. I've been at the refuge for 13 years and this is one of the strangest ones that I've seen," Dehmer said.

He says intruders cut down up to 50 trees. They girdled one, trying to chop it down, killing the nearly 100-year-old tree.

"Stop the morons from doing what they're doing!" Chaffer said. "That's moronic, I'm sorry!"

Deputy Dehmer says they have, thanks to two tips from hikers who got a license plate number. The young culprits soon confessed.

"Some of the quotes that were thrown out is that it was to relieve stress, and it was a competition," Dehmer said. "This is an area that's set aside for everybody to enjoy. And while they may have enjoyed what they were doing, that's not very enjoyable for other folks that are hiking the trails and want to use the area for its scenic beauty."

You can tell officers take this seriously. The young adults were all ticketed and fined. Deputies say they rely on tipsters to help them protect these wide-open spaces.

If you believe you have observed or have information on violations, you can report what you witnessed through the national hotline at 1-844-FWS-TIPS (1-844-397-8477). If you have an emergency or dangerous situation, dial 911.

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