By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Bryan took more than the trees' market value into consideration when, on Tuesday, he ordered Reid B. Johnston, 41, to cover the cost of the damage he inflicted both ecologically and economically.
“Judge Bryan agreed with the government that there is an ecological value in the trees that were stolen beyond the market value of the timber,” said Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington.
The trees were poached in the Rocky Brook area of the Dosewallips drainage near Brinnon between May 2009 and January 2010. Their market value was $69,000, Langlie said.
Sentenced to a year and a day
Johnston pleaded guilty in November to thefts of fir, cedar and maple trees, and was sentenced in December to a year and a day in jail, with credit for 32 days served.
He also must be on supervised release for two years.
At Johnston's sentencing, Bryan called the crime a “very serious offense” and said Johnston “stole a public resource.”
The 350-year-old fir was more than 6 feet in diameter and about halfway through its life span, Michael Hutchins, a Forest Service natural resources staff officer, said Wednesday.
“These are ancient trees,” he said. “You can't get that type of habitat that it was providing quickly.
“You look at it back throughout time, what is its value through the future. . . Now it's been pushed back and will have to start back over again.”
Johnston, a new father, said at his sentencing that he cut down the trees while logging a parcel he thought had been logged 25 years ago.
He harvested the trees next to property owned by his parents, Forest Service spokesman Keith Riggs said.
Johnson sold some of the timber to buyers on the Olympic Peninsula, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Some of the maple was cut into blocks and sold for the manufacture of musical instruments such as guitars and cellos.
The Forest Service had set the ecological value of the trees at $288,500 and the fair market value at $217,000.
Since restitution was limited to a maximum of $120,000 under the plea agreement, the government was seeking $120,000.
The cutting of trees in the Rocky Brook stand was prohibited in the Northwest Forest Plan, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said in a restitution memorandum.
“The old-growth trees damaged by the defendant in this case were undeniably unique,” Durkan said.
“These many-centuries-old trees were not a fungible commodity to be bought and sold.”
Former Forest Service Officer Kristine Fairbanks provided the initial leads in the case in 2008, Riggs said.
Fairbanks was killed at the Dungeness Forks Campground south of Sequim on Sept. 20, 2008.
She was fatally shot by Shawn Roe, a convicted felon who was later killed in a shootout at the Longhouse Market & Deli in Blyn, police said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.