PORT TOWNSEND — Two Port Townsend men were charged Tuesday in Jefferson County Superior Court with felling nearly $7,000 worth of figured maple trees on private property in Discovery Bay and selling the wood to a local mill.
Joseph Richard Thompson, 32, and Gabriel Alan Schuler, 36, were each charged with first-degree theft, trafficking in stolen property, harvesting specialized forest products not authorized by permit and second-degree criminal trespass.
They attended the hearing via video camera while they were in the Jefferson County Jail.
The wood they allegedly stole is highly sought after by furniture and musical instrument makers for its unique grain.
They were both released on their own recognizance from custody and scheduled for arraignment for 8:30 a.m. Friday.
Julie St. Marie, chief deputy prosecutor for Jefferson County, recommended Thompson be released on his own recognizance but asked for Schuler to be held on $15,000 bail.
“[Schuler] has received warrants in 17 cases,” she said, adding he had an outstanding warrant from a different jurisdiction for possession of marijuana.
Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Keith Harper told Schuler he wouldn’t set bail because Schuler had recently completed two years of drug court.
“I guess it’s sort of your lucky day,” Harper said. “But you better appear every time you’re supposed to be here.”
Schuler said he would appear in court.
“Yes, Your Honor,” Schuler said. “I’ll be there early.”
On Monday afternoon, a landowner reported that he had been following a vehicle he suspected of belonging to people who had stolen maple from his Discovery Bay property, according to court records.
He told Deputy Adam Newman that he watched the vehicle leave his private property, which is posted heavily with “no trespassing” signs, and followed it until it turned onto Eaglemount Road south of Port Townsend.
The landowner told Newman he had noticed a recently felled maple tree with segments removed on his property about a week earlier.
He provided the license plate and description of the vehicle he saw on Monday to Newman and later Port Townsend police officers went to the vehicle owner’s apartment in Port Townsend, which is shared by Schuler and Thompson.
The officers saw that Thompson was covered in dirt, moss and chain saw shavings, court records say.
Thompson told the officer he was on the property with Schuler and admitted to cutting several maple blocks on Monday before being contacted by the landowner, court records say.
Schuler was later arrested and claimed he took Thompson to the property, loaded several maple blocks into this vehicle, records say.
While Thompson remained at the site, Schuler and others in his vehicle parked at the bottom of the dirt road and acted as lookouts, records say.
While on his way out to speak with the landowner, Newman stopped at the only figured maple processing mill in the area and spoke with the manager, who said Schuler had brought in figured maple the week before, court records say.
The mill specializes in specialty tone wood and frequently ships wood to guitar manufactures, Newman said Tuesday.
Newman saw at least three recently felled maple trees with numerous blocks removed when he arrived at the property.
On Tuesday he estimated the trees’ value at $6,700.
“They probably removed about half of the wood and had tally sheets for about $3,000 so far,” he said.
He said it isn’t uncommon for tree poachers to take the best pieces of wood while leaving the rest behind.
“They target the rare trees,” he said. “They take the best of the figured blocks out of it and leave the rest to waste.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].