Timber thief gets 30 months in prison for illegal logging, forest fire

Leader news staff
news@ptleader.com
Posted 9/28/20

A man who was part of a timber poaching group that touched off the 3,300-acre Maple Fire in the Olympic National Forest two years ago was sentenced to 30 months in prison during a court appearance …

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Timber thief gets 30 months in prison for illegal logging, forest fire

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A man who was part of a timber poaching group that touched off the 3,300-acre Maple Fire in the Olympic National Forest two years ago was sentenced to 30 months in prison during a court appearance Monday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

Shawn Edward Williams, 49, was sentenced for the theft of public property and setting timber afire.

Williams had just been released from state prison when he joined a group of poachers that were stealing maple wood from the Olympic National Forest in 2018, prosecutors said.

The group was led by Justin Andrew Wilke, prosecutors alleged, who had been running an illegal logging operation in the Elk Lake area and cutting down maple trees and taking the logs to a mill in Tumwater. The type of maple wood stolen, officials said was “highly prized and used to produce musical instruments.”

The illegal logging took place between April and August 2018.

Authorities said the group decided to cut a maple tree on Aug. 3, 2018 but discovered a wasp’s nest near the base of the tree. The group tried to kill the nest by using insecticide, but then used gasoline to light the nest on fire.

The fire grew into a wildfire that was later named the “Maple Fire.” The blaze scorched more than 3,300 acres as it continued to burn for months and officials estimated it cost
$4.2 million to contain.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Forest Service, and Williams pleaded guilty to the charges of public theft and setting timber afire in December 2019.

Authorities noted that Williams did not actually set the fire, but was there when the tree was torched, which led to the devastating Maple Fire. 

“The consequences of your actions ... resulted in horrendous consequences to the forests,” U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle told Williams at his sentencing hearing earlier this week.

Williams was also sentenced to three years of supervised release.

Prosecutors pointed to the damage done by the Maple Fire as reminiscent of recent fires that have ravaged the Northwest. 

“Forest fires present a dire and growing threat in this region,” Assistant United States Attorneys Seth Wilkinson and Will Dreher said in their sentencing memo. “They destroy our forests, poison our air, and endanger responders, local residents, recreationalists, and wildlife.

“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 added.

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