Tree DNA has helped convict someone of crimes connected to an illegal logging operation in Washington State, the Associated Press reports. It adds that this appears to be the first time tree DNA has been introduced in a federal trial.
According to the AP, Justin Andrew Wilke was convicted last week on charges of conspiracy, theft of public property, depredation of public property, and trafficking and attempted trafficking in unlawfully harvested timber. Court documents, the Washington Post says, indicate that Wilke, Williams, and two other men not named in the complaint were part of an illegal logging operation near Olympic National Forest that sought to harvest maple wood. The AP adds that while Wilke argued that the wood he sold to a lumber mill was harvested from private property with a valid permit, a geneticist from the US Forest Service found the tree DNA matched that of remains from three poached trees.
An accomplice, Shawn Williams, pleaded guilty in 2019 to theft and charges related to a forest fire, the Post adds. It says that prosecutors alleged that when the men were attempting to harvest a maple tree in 2018, they decided to use gasoline to burn a wasp nest near the base of the tree, which started the Maple Fire. Wilke, the AP notes, was not convicted of charges related to the fire.