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Three men accused of damaging U.S. Forest Service land four years ago while going mudding in the Little Missouri National Grasslands now face criminal charges in federal court.

The charges recently unsealed in U.S. District Court stem from a June 2014 incident involving pickups that drove in an illegal off-road use area along the North Dakota-Montana border in McKenzie County.

Five full-sized pickups got stuck in the mud in the area known as Estes Springs. The individuals involved then got two road graders to try to recover the pickups, but then got the road graders stuck in the wet and muddy conditions.

The area has signs indicating it is National Forest Service land and directing the public to stay on established roads and trails.

The damage that resulted led federal prosecutors to charge Terry Lavern Klein Jr., Bradlee Shane Cole and Dustin Robert Nelson with aiding and abetting injury and depredation to property of the United States, a Class A misdemeanor. The men lived in Montana at the time of the incident.

Attorneys for Cole and Nelson appeared in federal court in Bismarck on Friday on behalf of their clients and entered not guilty pleas. Klein will appear in court at a later date.

Magistrate Judge Charles Miller said the charge carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison or a $100,000 fine.

Jan Swenson, executive director of the Badlands Conservation Alliance, saw photos of the incident four years ago and said it looked like the pickups had driven donuts in the mud following a rainstorm.

“They had just driven in these big donuts and the surface was broken and pushed up as if a construction equipment had been out there driving around,” Swenson said.

The Forest Service estimated it would cost as much as $5,000 to repair the damage, court records say.

Forest Service personnel declined to comment, citing the open case. The Forest Service has one full-time law enforcement officer assigned to the Dakota Prairie Grasslands who is stationed in Lemmon, S.D.

“It is great to see the Forest Service following through,” Swenson said. “It would be encouraging to see other government entities follow through on enforcement issues as well.”

(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or Amy.Dalrymple@bismarcktribune.com)

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