Second Port Angeles man sentenced for tree poaching

TACOMA — A second Port Angeles man has been sentenced for poaching a large maple tree on federal land near the Elwha River in 2013 and a third has been indicted for his alleged role in the same crime.

Matthew A. Hutto, 50, was sentenced Friday to 60 days in prison to be followed by two years probation.

He pleaded guilty in federal court Oct. 6 to one count of depredation of government property.

Federal investigators alleged that Matthew D. Welches, 63, Richard A. Welches, 24, and Hutto felled and sectioned off a big leaf maple near the former Lake Aldwell boat launch in the Elwha River restoration project area over six days in November 2013.

A receipt indicated that the men had sold the wood to a Quilcene music wood supplier, the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch said. Wood retrieved from that supplier matched the wood from the felled maple, investigators said.

Valued at $8,766

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

“The tree as a living part of the Elwha ecosystem is irreplaceable,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington said in a Friday news release.

“The natural resources in our federally protected lands belong to all of us, and to future generations — not to thieves making a quick buck.”

Matthew Welches was sentenced Jan. 19 to 30 days in prison after pleading guilty to one count of depredation of government property.

Richard Welches was indicted Feb. 2 on one count of depredation of government property.

Richard Welches is being held in the Clallam County jail on unrelated charges and a federal detainer. He was ordered to appear in federal court to answer to the indictment May 8.

The trio was arrested in 2013 after a neighbor reported hearing chainsaws and seeing people in the woods wearing headlamps in the middle of the night, investigators said.

Olympic National Park rangers found the three men cutting and loading the felled maple.

‘Irreparable damage’

Federal prosecutors had requested a six-month prison sentence for Hutto for causing “irreparable damage to a public treasurer,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andre Penalver wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

The two- to eight-month sentencing range was based on Hutto’s criminal history, the value of the timber and the fact that Hutto had accepted responsibility for the crime, court papers said.

Defense attorney Robert Freeby asked the court to give Hutto credit for time served prior to his sentencing and to “simply close the case.”

“I would like to apologize to the courts and the public for the bad choice that I made,” Hutto wrote in a handwritten letter attached to his sentencing memorandum.

In addition to their prison sentences, Hutto and Matthew Welches were each ordered to pay $17,533 in restitution, the National Park Service said.

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

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