The owner of a Winlock lumber business and three other Lewis County men have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle for illegally logging and selling massive bigleaf maple trees from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
In an indictment, prosecutors say Ryan Anthony Justice, James Michael Miller and Kevin James Mullins stole wood from the national forest, located east of Cowlitz County. Prosecutors are also targeting Harold Clause Kupers and his Winlock-based business, J&L Tonewoods, claiming it was a front for poached maple, according to the indictment.
Blocks or “billets” of the beautifully grained bigleaf maple, typically called “flame maple” or “quilt maple,” can be worth hundreds of dollars and were used to make expensive musical instruments, federal prosecutors allege.
Prosecutors say bigleaf maples are critical habitat for many species, including the Puget Oregonian snail, a species that is extinct in Canada and on the decline in Washington.
“The trees in our national forests belong to all Americans and should not be chopped up to enrich a few,” U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes said in a statement Thursday accompanying the indictment. “In this case a beautiful and valued resource that is home to endangered species was felled with some parts just discarded on the forest floor. We are prosecuting not only the tree cutters, but also the mill owner who created a market for the sale of this stolen property.”
According to the indictment, Kupers and J&L Tonewoods purchased bigleaf maple from the three other defendants, who had obtained it without U.S. Forest Service authorization. Kupers “sometimes provided training and assistance to individuals who felled the maple trees,” according to the indictment.
The three defendants made about about 50 sales of maple to Kupers and J&L Tonewoods from October 2011 to March 2012, prosecutors say. Kupers knew the wood was stolen and did not require the other defendants to display specialized permits or records to show that the maple had been logged legally, the indictment says.
Kupers sold the maple for three times the amount paid to the other defendants, earning revenues in excess of $800,000 on the illegally obtained wood, the indictment added.
The maple was cut in the area of the Iron Creek Campground just south of Randle; near the Cispus River near Forest Road 2801; and near Dry Creek near Forest Service Road 23.
Kupers, 48, declined comment when phoned at his Winlock business Thursday afternoon. Justice, 28, of Randle, and Miller, 36, of Morton, are in custody pending detention hearings. Mullins, 56, of Packwood, has not yet made his initial appearance on the indictment.
Kupers is charged with receipt of stolen property and seven violations of the Lacey Act, which prohibits trafficking in “illegal” wildlife, fish, and plants. The three tree cutters are charged with theft of government property and damaging government property.
Violations of the Lacey Act are punishable by up to five years in prison and $250,000 fine. The other charges in the indictment are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.