TACOMA, Wash. - A member of a timber poaching group has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for theft of public property and for setting trees on fire.
49-year-old Shawn Edward Williams was charged for his role in an illegal logging operation at Washington's Olympic National Forest. In 2018, Williams and group leader Justin Wilke illegally felled maple trees and sold the lumber to sawmills.
In August 2018, the group encountered a tree with a wasp's nest at its base. They tried to eliminate the nest using insecticide, but ended up using gasoline when it didn't work.
The fire became a blaze, scorching more than 3,300 acres of forest and burning for months. Dubbed the "Maple Fire", officials estimated it cost around $4.2 million to eventually contain.
Prosecutors said the illegal operation went on between April and August 2018. They referred to the stolen maple wood as highly prized and commonly used for musical instruments.
Williams pleaded guilty to his charges in December 2019. He was also sentenced to three years of supervised release.
“When this fire occurred in early August 2018, the Puget Sound region was (as it is today) already experiencing significant smoke from existing wildfires, and the high risk of fire was evident to everyone in Western Washington. Despite this atmosphere, Williams participated in taking the extreme risk of setting fire to a portion of a tree — deep in the forest, in mid-summer. The consequences of that decision — thousands of acres burned, millions of dollars in containment costs, and the release of huge amounts of smoke — were easily foreseeable,” prosecutors said.
Olympic National Forest is a U.S. National Forest covering 628,115 acres in Washington state. It nearly surrounds Olympic National Park and the Olympic Mountain range.
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