Member of timber poaching group that set Olympic National Forest wildfire sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison | USAO-WDWA

Tacoma — One of two men charged in a scheme to steal maple wood that resulted in a massive 2018 forest fire on the Olympic Peninsula was sentenced to prison today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, announced U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran.  SHAWN EDWARD WILLIAMS, 49, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years of supervised release for theft of public property and setting timber afire.  At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle said that “the consequences of your actions . . . resulted in horrendous consequences to the forests.”    

According to records filed in the case, between April and August 2018, lead defendant Justin Andrew Wilke conducted an illegal logging operation in the Elk Lake area of the Olympic National Forest, near Hood Canal.  In July 2018, just days after his release from state prison, WILLIAMS joined the conspiracy, helping Wilke remove maple from the National Forest and transporting it with Wilke to a mill in Tumwater, Washington.  The type of maple harvested by the defendants is highly prized and used to produce musical instruments. 

On August 3, 2018, the group decided to cut a maple tree that contained a wasp’s nest near the base of the tree.  To remove the nest, the group sprayed insecticide and gasoline on the nest and base of the tree and then lit the nest on fire.  The group failed to extinguish the fire, which developed into a wildfire later named the “Maple Fire.”  The Maple Fire consumed more than 3,300 acres between August and November 2018 and cost approximately $4.2 million to contain.  WILLIAMS did not himself set the fire, but was present when others set the fire.

WILLIAMS pleaded guilty in December 2019.

In their sentencing memo, prosecutors highlighted the danger of Wilke and WILLIAMS’s conduct.  “Forest fires present a dire and growing threat in this region.  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.”

The case was investigated by the United States Forest Service.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Seth Wilkinson and Will Dreher.

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