Crime

A tree fell in an Olympic NP forest and somebody heard. Now 2 men are headed to prison

Maple trees at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge.
Maple trees at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. Staff file, 2009

Two men are going to prison and are ordered to pay $17,533 in restitution after pleading guilty to cutting down a tree in Olympic National Park, the Park Service announced Friday.

Michael Welches, 63, and Matthew Hutto, 50, reportedly entered the park at night wearing headlamps and used a chainsaw to cut down a big leaf maple tree in November, 2013. A witness reported the incident and a ranger found the evidence of the crime while investigating the next day.

A National Park Service statement says that on the following night the witness once again heard chainsaws and called the park. Rangers arrived to find three men cutting the tree and loading it into a vehicle. The men were arrested.

Among evidence collected by a National Park Service investigation was a receipt indicating the men sold the wood to a local music wood supplier. The wood sold matched the wood of the felled maple.

“The value of the timber as music wood is estimated to be $8,766,” read a statement from the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington that was included in an NPS press release. “The tree as a living part of the Elwha ecosystem is irreplaceable. The natural resources in our federally protected lands belong to all of us, and to future generations — not to thieves making a quick buck.”

Welches will serve 30 days in prison and Hutto will serve 60 days and then two years probation. The third man involved is currently incarcerated for an unrelated charges and will be sentenced at a later date.

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