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The remains of a 40-inch diameter black walnut tree estimated to be at least 140 years-old. An Iowa resident cut the tree down, but due to the large size could only remove one log, estimated at $1,400 market value. Photo courtesy of Hill / USACE.

If there is one thing Iowa doesn’t have a lot of, it’s forests. Most of the state’s old growth was mowed down two hundred years ago to make room for corn and soybeans.

So it wasn’t too hard to spot when one resident chopped down 32 black walnut trees. The rub, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, was that the trees were growing on federal land administered by the Army Corp of Engineers.

With current lumber prices, the hacking would have netted thousands of dollars on the open market. Instead, it landed the rogue lumberjack a 15-month stay with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and a $56,225 restitution order.

“When something like this occurs, we have no choice but to do everything within our authority to prevent similar activity. Unfortunately, many of the things we value in nature take decades or centuries to evolve but can be taken away in a matter of only a few careless hours,” Col. Mark Deschenes, commander of the Rock Island District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said in a prepared statement.

Authorities said the man pleaded guilty to removing trees from Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, which is under the control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, as well as from other property under the control of the Corps at the downtown Riverside area in Des Moines, the Sycamore area in Polk County and the Lake Red Rock area in Marion County. He was sentenced last week

The investigation was conducted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, State of Iowa Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Bureau, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa.

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