Thief Who Stole Redwood Burls Is Banned by Judge From National Park
(Bloomberg) -- A California judge has banned a man from the national park where he stole priceless chunks of old-growth redwood.
Derek Hughes, 38, pleaded guilty to felony vandalism in connection with hacking off protrusions known as burls from trees in the northern part of Redwood National and State Parks. In addition to the ban, Judge Christopher Wilson sentenced Hughes on Aug. 20 to two years of probation and 400 hours of community service.
Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Steven Steward called the trees “irreplaceable shared natural resources” and argued for the maximum fine of $10,000 in order to deter similar behavior. Burls, which are prized for their rich and intricate grains, can sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
“People need to see that there are real financial consequences so even if they don’t care about damaging our environment, they will see that it’s not worth the cost,” Steward said.
Hughes “apologizes for his wrongdoing,” said his attorney, Wade Orbelian.
The theft was discovered in 2018 by Brandon Pero, then a ranger for the U.S. National Park Service. He set up a net of hidden cameras to catch Hughes, and later searched his home, where Pero and other investigators found pieces of wood that matched the damaged trees. Hughes was subsequently arrested and charged.
“There was major damage that can’t be repaired,” Pero, the former ranger, said in a statement to Bloomberg. Although he believed jail time for Hughes would have been appropriate, Pero said he was “happy with the case.”
Plant theft in U.S. parks is a worsening problem, affecting succulents, ginseng, and saguaro cacti, among other species. Prosecution of the thieves involved is relatively rare.
The burl case was the subject of a 2019 feature article in Bloomberg Businessweek.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.