People load timber rounds that were illegally felled off the Mountain Loop Highway on state land east of Granite Falls. The firewood was delivered to area food banks. (Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

People load timber rounds that were illegally felled off the Mountain Loop Highway on state land east of Granite Falls. The firewood was delivered to area food banks. (Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

Hung jury can’t decide if Everett man poached public timber

The man, 31, testified he thought a Discover Pass gave him the right to harvest firewood on forest land.

GRANITE FALLS — A Snohomish County jury deadlocked on whether an Everett man knew he was poaching timber from public land near Granite Falls, or if he believed a friend who told him, wrongly, that they only needed a Discover Pass to harvest trees.

The two men cut Douglas fir and western hemlock with chainsaws through the night starting at 10:30 p.m. Jan. 3, 2018, eight miles east of Granite Falls, the defendant told a jury Thursday.

The men sawed and stacked logs until 9 a.m., when a state Department of Natural Resources officer stopped them.

One of the men, 31, went on trial last week for theft in the first degree and removing firewood without a license. The jury began deliberating around 11 a.m. Friday.

Superior Court Judge David Kurtz declared a mistrial about four hours later, when the jurors said they couldn’t agree on a verdict. According to the younger man’s testimony, the pair didn’t cut standing trees, but they did slice up uprooted trunks that had fallen.

“Was it alive?” asked his public defender, Tiffany Mecca.

He conceded that yes, it was fair to say the trees were alive, based on earlier testimony of a forester and a DNR officer.

“But to my understanding at the time, I believed it was deadfall,” he said. “I was of the understanding that anything that was uprooted, that didn’t have a chance of surviving, was deadfall.”

At the time, the defendant was short on cash. He’d lived on the street for a while. His girlfriend covered the rent and bills at their Shoreline home. He felt like a leech, he testified. So he’d accepted the offer of an odd job, when his friend offered it to him.

The pair had innocent reasons to cut trees at night, the defendant said. His baby was born with a kidney defect that caused severe urinary problems, so he’d often go to Seattle Children’s hospital in the afternoons.

The friend worked a regular day job. He owned the SUV and trailer. The defendant testified his friend told him it’d be OK to take firewood, if they had a Discover Pass.

“To my knowledge, (he) had never lied to me before, and had never asked me to do anything illegal,” he said. “So I had no reason not to believe him.”

The pass grants access to state parks, but doesn’t give them a right to take firewood off public land. Public timber sales fund schools, state mental hospitals and other public services, according to DNR. The men drove a mile past an unlocked gate onto state property. The defendant said he didn’t see the sign warning against driving on the forest road. He did notice a beat-up sign that said no shooting.

The Nissan Pathfinder stopped at the edge of two washouts. Some timber there was good seasoned firewood that burned well, and some was rotten, the man testified.

A DNR officer, Greg Erwin, rolled up to the scene and saw the men stacking rounds of logs onto a trailer. The older man told the officer he thought a state parks pass allowed him to take the wood. The officer told him that’s not true, but he asked to see it anyway — and the man told him, actually, he didn’t have a Discover Pass, charging papers say.

An initial estimate pinned the total theft of 18 trees at $12,051.

Value fluctuates with the lumber market, so the defense attorney, Mecca, asked a state forester on the witness stand to recalculate the value of the wood he’d examined. He punched figures into a calculator, and found the loss could’ve been as low as $1,544.

After declaring a mistrial, the judge set a new trial date of Nov. 1.

The older defendant was scheduled to go to trial this week. But as the jury weighed the first case behind closed doors, the other man’s trial date was delayed until Nov. 22.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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