After an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, a man has been sentenced to prison for stealing timber from Mark Twain National Forest (MTNF) land in two area counties.
Richard McKinnon, 38, of St. Roberts, was sentenced last Thursday to 18 months in prison for theft of government property. He appeared in federal court before U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh.
According to court documents, between September and December of 2016, McKinnon and his co-defendants, Dale Connour and Delmar Connour, felled walnut trees located on federal land in Laclede County and Pulaski County. The men removed at least 39 trees without authorization from the MTNF and then sold the stolen timber at a walnut sawmill in Texas County.
Authorities said McKinnon and the Connours damaged at least 21 trees as a result of driving prohibited vehicles onto restricted areas of the MTNF in order to cut down and remove the walnut trees.
The total estimated value of the stolen timber and the cost of rehabilitation to national forest land was $35,862.50.
MTNF Houston/Rolla/Cedar Creek District Ranger Kim Bittle said the incident is by no means rare.
“Unfortunately, timber theft probably occurs more often than we know,” Bittle said. “The Mark Twain National Forest is an active forest with work occurring across all of our ownership. We really appreciate the public helping us, by being our eyes and ears out there, and letting us know what they are seeing since we can’t be everywhere at all times.”
Bittle said there can be wide-ranging ramifications from timber theft crimes.
“Most timber theft occurs in sensitive areas where the potential for resource damage is high because there is larger, more valuable timber from years of protection,” she said. “These areas include riparian management zones – RMZs – like springs, seeps, fens, sinkholes, floodplains, areas with slopes greater than 35-percent and recreation areas. Our Forest Plan does not allow timber harvest within these sensitive areas due to high potential for resource damage. When illegal cutting occurs, proper harvesting precautions and Best Management Practices – or BMPs – are not followed and often cause severe, unrepairable damage.
“Timber thieves are targeting the best timber, in sensitive areas, and doing resource damage to the ecosystem. Timber theft negatively affects all resources in the forest.”
Bittle said that anyone who notices or suspects active timber theft is encouraged to call the MTNF office in Houston 417-967-4194
“We appreciate the extra set of eyes on public land trying to eliminate illegal activity and its associated damages,” Bittle said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gwen Carroll is handling the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.