FOR the very first time, DNA analysis was introduced into a US Federal Court to prosecute a person for tree theft. Not the accused’s DNA, but that from three maple trees that were illegally felled on public land and which subsequently matched DNA taken from the three stumps left behind.

A timber salesman now faces a 10-year prison stretch after he was convicted of conspiracy, theft of public property, depredation of public property, and trafficking and attempted trafficking in unlawfully harvested timber, said the U.S Attorney’s Office for Western Washington in the US Pacific Northwest.

The timber salesman stood accused of felling the maple trees in the Olympic National Forest in Washington State and hauling the timber away with the help of a fellow defendant. At the same time, they were blamed with starting a forest fire that destroyed 3,300 acres back in 2018 and cost $4.2 million to contain. The timber salesman claimed the maple timber had been harvested from private land with a valid permit. That’s when prosecutors called in Richard Cronn a research geneticist for the US Forest Service who used DNA analysis to match the timber with the maple tree stumps left behind.

READ MORE: Boring beetle rocks guitar makers

According to prosecutors, the timber salesman and his accomplice visited Elk Lake to examine the maple trees, one of which had a wasp’s nest near to its base. The prosecutors said that to remove it the accused sprayed the nest with insecticide and petrol and set it alight. It was this which started a fire that the defendants could not extinguish, they said.

In 2019, the timber salesman’s accomplice pleaded guilty to starting a fire and theft of public property, for which he received a 30-month prison sentence. The jury did not find the timber salesman guilty of starting the fire although he faces a long prison stretch when sentencing takes place in October 2021 according to ABC News.

The court heard that these were not just ‘any old maple trees’ but of a species that is highly-prized for making musical instruments – almost certainly Acer macrophyllum (big-leaf maple), the wood from which is used to make guitars and other musical instruments. Natural distribution of big leaf maple is in the Pacific Northwest of North America.

Forestry Journal remains dedicated to bringing you all the latest news and views from across our industry, plus up-to-date information on the impacts of COVID-19.

Please support us by subscribing to our print edition, delivered direct to your door, from as little at £75 for 1 year – or consider a digital subscription from just £1 for 3 months.

To arrange, follow this link:

Thanks – and stay safe.