In a 2017 U.S. District Court case, Roy Hinkson fought the Forest Service over a boundary dispute involving an inherited family cabin located on the edge of Hiawatha National Forest. Court documents indicate that a close family friend, Alfred Repp, had erected the cabin on his 40-acre parcel of land in the 1950s. A fire destroyed that cabin in 1976, and Repp rebuilt it two years later, with the help and input of the Forest Service. At that time, federal officials asked Repp to locate the rebuilt cabin 25 feet east of its original location to ensure it would be located entirely within the boundaries of his property.
For more than 60 years, the original cabin and the rebuilt cabin were used regularly for deer hunting and recreation by both Repp and the Hinkson family. Hinkson eventually inherited the rebuilt cabin and the parcel of land in 2013. But then in 2014, the Forest Service ordered surveys of the site and determined that the rebuilt cabin still encroached on the national forest.
Rather than working with Hinkson to rectify the encroachment and to seek some form of resolution — as they had done in the 1970s — federal officers set up a sting operation and charged Hinkson with a crime. On opening day of deer season, state and federal agents rushed into the area and pulled Hinkson and his hunting partners from their deer blinds, informing them they had committed as many as 30 different violations. But the officers issued only three tickets related to constructing a cabin and permanent deer blinds on federal lands.[*]
Hinkson immediately removed the deer blinds and attempted to find an amicable agreement by offering to purchase federal land around the cabin or to swap eight acres of his nearby land for the eight acres of public lands on which the cabin sat to rectify the boundary dispute. Federal officials refused his offers, and Hinkson took the issue to court. The following spring, Forest Service officials visited Hinkson’s property again and wrote additional tickets, claiming his bird feeder and wood pile were “garbage” that had been left on federal lands. They also requested that federal prosecutors upgrade the original charge from a misdemeanor to a “federal criminal case.”
The final court ruling eventually found Hinkson not guilty, noting that he had not intended to violate federal law when he inherited the cabin in 2013. The judge’s ruling further noted that the Forest Service’s charges and actions, if successful, would produce “an absurd result,” and called its decision to pursue criminal charges against Hinkson “peculiar.”
The sting operation and later court proceedings stand in stark contrast to the amicable efforts the Forest Service employed with the original landowner to relocate the cabin in the 1970s. This episode serves as one example of how the agency’s approach to conflict with a local landowner in Michigan may have changed over nearly half a century.
[*] The alleged violation was of 36 C.F.R. § 261.10(a), which prohibits the following: “Constructing, placing, or maintaining any kind of road, trail, structure, fence, enclosure, communication equipment, significant surface, or other improvement on National Forest System lands or facilities without a special-use authorization, contract, or approved operating plan when such authorization is required.”