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Timber Thief in Washington Cuts Down 300-Year-Old Tree

Jeff Penman, an area measurement specialist from the US Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Regional office, stands atop the stump of an old-growth tree felled illegally in Olympic National Forest. The tree was estimated to be at least 300 years old. Photo/U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington.

Jeff Penman, an area measurement specialist from the US Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Regional office, stands atop the stump of an old-growth tree felled illegally in Olympic National Forest. The tree was estimated to be at least 300 years old. Photo/U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington.

Thanks to a lengthy investigation led by U.S. Forest Service law enforcement personnel, a Washington man has been convicted of stealing timber and damaging trees worth more than $250,000 from the Olympic National Forest in Washington state.

Reid Johnston, 41, of Brinnon, Wash., pleaded guilty last fall to damaging up to $120,000 worth of timber in the forest related to tree thefts that occurred between May 2009 and January 2010.

At Johnson’s sentencing hearing in December, federal prosecutors said that what Johnston destroyed to take the timber was worth much more. One of the trees cut down was a Douglas fir about 8 feet in diameter, estimated to be about 330 years old and characterized by Forest Service researchers as “essentially irreplaceable.”

“The true value of these resources cannot be measured by board feet or the number of maple blocks or fir logs to be harvested from each tree,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Diggs said. The magnitude of the loss can fairly be analogized to losing a national antiquity or cultural heritage resource. … The defendant’s greed robbed our region of one of its most precious resources – trees which will take centuries to return.”

“Stands of old growth trees … entail a unique forest ecosystem, the significance of which reaches far beyond the individual trees damaged,” the prosecutor continued. “Simply put, the property stolen and damaged in this case will not be replaced for years to come.”

Beginning in January 2008, investigation by Forest Service officers and agents revealed that Johnston had harvested trees from the national forest property adjacent to property owned by his parents in the Rocky Brook area of Olympic National Forest.

Johnston sold some portion of the timber cut to various buyers on the Olympic Peninsula and elsewhere, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Some of the maple trees he cut down were cut into blocks and sold for the production of musical instruments, such as cellos and guitars.

An investigator examines old-growth timber stolen from Olympic National Forest by Reid Johnston. Photo: U.S. Attorney's Office For The Western District Of Washington

An investigator examines old-growth timber stolen from Olympic National Forest by Reid Johnston. Photo: U.S. Attorney's Office For The Western District Of Washington

On Dec. 14, 2012, U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan sentenced Johnston to 12 months and one day with credit for 32 days served. He must also serve a supervised release for two years. A restitution hearing is scheduled for January to determine the amount Johnston will have to pay the federal government.

The 102 stolen or damaged trees had an ecological value set by the Forest Service at $288,500, their fair market value was determined to be $217,000.

In 2008, the initial leads in the investigation of the illegal cuttings were provided by Kristine Fairbanks, a Forest Service officer killed in the line of duty in an unrelated incident in September of that year while patrolling on the Olympic National Forest.

6 Responses to “Timber Thief in Washington Cuts Down 300-Year-Old Tree”

  1. Chris Daley says:

    The people who purchased wood products from this man should also be prosecuted. Receiving stolen property. Punishment should be fines and prison, in order to reinforce ethical behavior in timber industry. This is why Theodore Roosevelt initially got involved in conservation movement along w John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and others.

  2. Sharon walker says:

    What did this man have to say for himself? I am so sad that he and his cohorts killed these beautiful, living things. They are gone forever. And furious he will get a year in the slammer (less time “served”).

  3. Scott says:

    Mr. Johnston should be tethered to another old growth tree after which he should be smeared with honey and affixed with several large steaks in the sincere hope that he is devoured by bears.

  4. Teresa says:

    “Kristine Fairbanks, a Forest Service officer killed in the line of duty in an unrelated incident in September of that year while patrolling on the Olympic National Forest”.
    How sure are they that these incidents are unrelated? She was clearly investigating this…someone better take another look at her case.

  5. murphy says:

    In response to Teresa…
    “her alleged assailant, Shawn Roe, a sometime tree-trimmer with a history of domestic-violence-related convictions”

    http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2008194714_forestservice22m.html

  6. Pavan says:

    One wonders how this guy could expect to get away with this, since the trees were adjacent to his property, where he was also logging. It didn’t take much investigation to figure out who did this. Could it be that he didn’t know where his property line was? Only a fool would intentionally cut trees on USFS property that was adjacent to his own property. I’d say he was more dumb than evil.

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