Friday, August 20, 2021

Redwood Burl Poacher Sentenced to Community Service, Probation, Banned from Park

Posted By on Fri, Aug 20, 2021 at 1:02 PM

click to enlarge A ranger measuring the damage to the redwood trunk in the case. - NPS
  • NPS
  • A ranger measuring the damage to the redwood trunk in the case.
An Orick man is now banned from stepping foot into Redwood National and State Parks as part of his sentencing today after pleading guilty last month to poaching burl from old growth redwoods at the protected site. He also received two years probation, a $1,200 fine and 400 hours of community service.

Derek Alwin Hughes' case dates back to 2018, when the parks' rangers began an investigation into the pillaging of an old growth tree near Newton B. Drury Parkway that had massive chunks cut out from the base. Using photo monitoring and tire track evidence, they were able to obtain a search warrant for Hughes' home.

Burl found at the now 38 year old's property was transported back to the poaching site, where rangers were able to make a match. The knobbed growths on redwoods, which encase intricately patterned wood that can fetch hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on the unregulated burl market — are in many ways like a human fingerprint, with the whorls of each one unique to a specific tree.

Incidents, like the one involving Hughes, are unfortunately not uncommon in Redwood National and State Parks, which is home to some of the world's last old growth stands. If the damage is too severe, the tree will die. In one of the worst documented cases, a 300-year-old redwood was cut down just so a poacher could get at a massive burl located 50 feet up its side. (Read more in the Journal's May of 2018 story, "Crimes Against Nature.")
click to enlarge The aftermath of burl poaching. - REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
  • Redwood National and State Parks
  • The aftermath of burl poaching.
And redwoods are not the only local natural resource under siege, succulents and red abalone, a species on the brink with the collapse of much of the state's bull kelp forests amid a "perfect storm" of ecological events tied to climate change, are among other local plants and wildlife also sought by poachers.

Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Steven Steward, who prosecuted Hughes' case, had asked the court to impose the maximum fine — a three year sentence and $10,000 fine — "given the extent of damage to irreplaceable shared natural resources and the importance of deterring such behavior," a release from the DA's Office states.

Read the DA's Office release below:
Following 38-year-old Derek Alwin Hughes’ guilty plea to one count of felony vandalism on July 23rd, Judge Christopher Wilson today sentenced Hughes to two years on probation and ordered him to complete 400 hours of community service and to stay out of Redwood National and State Parks.

The conviction stems from a 2018 investigation by Redwood National and State Parks Law Enforcement Rangers of the removal of old-growth redwood burl from trees in the vicinity of Newton B. Drury Parkway. Investigators used photo monitoring and tire-track evidence to obtain a search warrant for Hughes’ residence, where they found pieces of burl that matched the damaged trees. Hughes faced a maximum 3-year jail sentence and $10,000 fine.

In prosecuting the case, Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Steven Steward argued that the court should impose the maximum fine given the extent of damage to irreplaceable shared natural resources and the importance of deterring such behavior. Deputy Public Defender Wade Orbelian represented Hughes.
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Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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