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Timber thief convicted of cutting down 300-year-old treeTimber thief convicted of cutting down 300-year-old tree

Washington man convicted of stealing timber and damaging trees worth more than $250,000 from the Olympic National ForestReid Johnston, 41, of Brinnon, Wash., was sentenced to one year in jail, plus pending financial penalties.

January 30, 2013

2 Min Read
<p> Jeff Penman, an area measurement specialist from the US Forest Service&#39;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&#39;s Office for the Western District of Washington.</p>

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.”

timber_20thief_202.jpg“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.”

(See related: Forensic marker dogs on trail of metal thieves)

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.

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.

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