A Tree Sends a Washington Poacher to Prison

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A case in Washington State represents the first use of DNA evidence from trees during a prosecution in a federal criminal trial, reports the Washington Post. Justin Andrew Wilke and a crew of associates were found to have conducted an illegal logging operation in the Elk Lake area of the Olympic National Forest, between April and August 2018. The group removed highly prized maple trees — used to produce musical instruments such as violins and guitars — and forged permits to sell the wood.

A DNA analysis found that the wood Wilke sold was a genetic match to the remains of three poached maple trees that investigators had discovered in the Elk Lake area and was so precise that it found the probability of the match being coincidental was approximately 1 in 1 undecillion (1 followed by 36 zeros). The DNA evidence also proved that Wilke had unlawfully harvested and sold wood from seven other maple trees. Wilke was given a 20-month sentence, the judge acknowledging that prison time was much harder during the COVID pandemic, and was also ordered to forfeit the proceeds of his illegal poaching and is required to pay restitution to the U.S. Forest Service.

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