News and Press Releases

Old Growth Western Cedars Taken from Olympic National Forest

January 23, 2009

BRUCE BROWN, 47, of Humptulips, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to five months in prison and three years of supervised release for conspiring to steal and damage 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 he considered the theft of these trees a very serious crime. The lead conspirator in the case, Craig A. James, 46, of Aberdeen, Washington will be sentenced next month.

According to records filed in the case, BROWN conspired with James and 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.

Asking that BROWN be sentenced to prison time, Assistant United States Attorney Jim Oesterle described the damage done to a public resource. “The Cook Creek parcel damaged by Defendant Brown and his co-conspirators represents one of the last known stands of old growth western red cedar on the coastal plain in southwest Washington..... Stands of old growth western red cedar entail a unique forest ecosystem, the significance of which reaches far beyond the individual trees. The continued existence of numerous flora and fauna are tied to the continued viability of areas such as Cook Creek,” Mr. Oesterle wrote in his sentencing memo.

BROWN pleaded guilty September 22, 2008. Two other defendants have already been sentenced following their guilty pleas. Floyd Stutesman, 48, of Hoquiam, Washington, was sentenced last month to five years of probation with four months of electronic home detention. A third defendant, James Osborne, (46) of Humptulips, Washington, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of damaging trees belonging to the U.S., and was sentenced to two years of probation and 60 hours of community service.

The lead investigating officer 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 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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