News and Press Releases

Old Growth Western Cedars Taken from Olympic National Forest

May 15, 2009

Three men convicted and sentenced in connection with illegally cutting old growth cedar in the Olympic National Forest, were ordered this week to pay $336,468 in restitution as part of their sentences. U.S. District Judge Robert B. Leighton ordered the restitution May 13, 2009, following a lengthy hearing on the value of the trees. Some of the trees taken by the men were nearly 600 years old.

Last month Judge Leighton Sentenced Craig A. James , 46, of Aberdeen, Washington to two years in prison. James will be responsible for the restitution jointly with two other defendants: Bruce Brown, 47, of Humptulips, Washington was sentenced in January to five months in prison; Floyd Stutesman, 48, of Hoquiam, Washington, was sentenced in December 2008, to two years of probation with four months of electronic home detention.

According to records filed in the case, James , Brown and Stutesman conspired 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.

Assistant United States Attorney Jim Oesterle asked the court to impose restitution based on the ecological value of the trees writing to the court, “The old growth western red cedar trees damaged and destroyed by the Defendants in this case were undeniably unique. They had ecological, aesthetic and cultural value far greater than a dollar figure based on board feet.”

Judge Leighton agreed, setting a restitution amount significantly above what the defendants had argued for.

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 o f 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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