News and Press Releases

Thirty-One Old Growth Western Cedars Taken from Olympic National Forest

April 10, 2009

CRAIG A. JAMES, 48, of Aberdeen, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to two years in prison and three years of supervised release for conspiring to steal and damage thirty-one old growth western cedar trees on the Olympic National Forest near Nielton, Washington. Some of the trees were nearly 600 years old. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton said, “Mr. James was the straw that stirred the drink. This crime would not occur without his initiative.”

According to records filed in the case, JAMES conspired with others to cut the trees over a several week period in early 2006. United States Forest Service officers located the theft site after approximately thirty cords of cedar had been removed and sold to local mills. The defendants provided false documentation indicating the wood had been harvested from private property near Pacific Beach, Washington. A substantial quantity of the wood was considered “music wood,” highly valued by manufacturers of musical instruments and only found in older trees.

Expert evaluations presented by prosecutors indicate that the Cook Creek parcel damaged by JAMES and Brown and their co-conspirators represents one of the last known stands of old growth western red cedar on the coastal plain in southwest Washington. The continued existence of numerous flora and fauna are tied to the continued viability of areas such as Cook Creek. “Several of the cedar trees felled at the theft site were approximately five to six hundred years old. The true value of these resources cannot be measured by board feet or the number of cedar shingles to be harvested from each tree. While any measure of value seems inadequate, the magnitude of the loss can fairly be analogized to losing a national antiquity, or cultural heritage resource,” Assistant United States Attorney Jim Oesterle wrote in his sentencing memo. Judge Leighton stated, “My concern is that this is a crime that involved significant amount of deception. It wouldn't occur to any of us to cut a tree of that size. Mr. James knew better. And to get two mopes to help... He jeopardized their lives as well.”

On May 12, 2009, Judge Leighton will hold a hearing to determine how much restitution JAMES and his co-defendants owe for the stolen timber. Co-defendant Bruce Brown, 47, of Humptulips, Washington was sentenced in January to five months in prison and three years of supervised release. Three additional defendants have already been sentenced following their guilty pleas. Floyd Stutesman, 48, of Hoquiam, Washington, was sentenced in December 2008, to two years of probation with four months of electronic home detention. James Osborn, 46, of Humptulips, Washington, was sentenced to two years probation, and Willie McKown, 31, of Hoquiam, Washington was sentenced to 30 days in jail and one year of supervised release.

One of the lead investigating officers on this case was United States Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Kristine Fairbanks. Officer Fairbanks was shot and killed on September 20, 2008 near Sequim, Washington while conducting patrol duties in the Olympic National Forest.

The United States Forest Service was assisted in this investigation by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jim Oesterle.

For additional information, please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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