Port Angeles man pleads guilty in tree poaching case

PORT ANGELES — Richard A. Welches, one of three co-defendants charged with poaching an old growth maple tree on federal land near the Elwha River in 2013, has pleaded guilty to depredation of government property.

Welches, 24, entered the plea Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Tacoma, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Emily Langlie said.

He is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 21.

Federal investigators said Welches, Matthew A. Hutto, 50, and Michael D. Welches, 63, felled and sectioned off a big leaf maple tree near the former Lake Aldwell boat launch in the Elwha River restoration area in November 2013.

Olympic National Park rangers found the trio cutting and loading the tree after a neighbor reported hearing chainsaws and seeing people in the woods wearing headlamps in the middle of the night, federal court papers said.

Investigators said the men, all from Port Angeles, had sold some of the wood to a Quilcene music wood supplier.

The value of the timber sold as music wood was estimated to be $8,766.

All three men were indicted on one count of depredation of government property.

Michael Welches was sentenced Jan. 19 to 30 days in federal prison.

Hutto was sentenced Feb. 16 to 60 days in prison and two years probation.

Both men were ordered to pay $17,533 in restitution.

In exchange for Richard Welches’ guilty plea, federal prosecutors are recommending no more than 30 days in prison.

The court is not bound by the sentencing recommendation.

Richard Welches also agreed to pay $962 in restitution to the National Park Service, Langlie said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.