Reduced sentence against Redwood National Park poacher upsets community

3 mins read

A culprit behind the missing burls in a redwood discovered more than three years ago pleaded guilty and was sentenced last week.

The missing burls in the Redwood National and State Parks were found to be chopped away by a chainsaw.

37-year-old Derek Hughes from Orick now faces 400 hours of community service and a couple of years of probation. He is also not allowed to access the park.

Hughes’ story of defying imprisonment and fines reflects how the redwood burl poaching exists but is given little attention, triggering worries from several people.

In 2018, law enforcement rangers discovered a redwood poaching location within Redwood National and State Parks, of which 39% of the remaining old-growth redwood forest in the world stands at its 133, 000 acres.

Seeing the huge burls, or twisted growths formed from bud tissue that has not yet sprouted, being chopped away is not new to the rangers as it admitted the increase in the illegal hacking of the burls in the past years, the park said in its website.

 “This uncontrolled and illegitimate harvesting of burls directly threatens individual old-growth redwoods, the prime resource of [Redwood National and State Parks], a designated World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve,” according to the park’s website.  

But catching the culprit was a challenge unless an individual witnesses that he did the wrongdoing. Noticing that all the burls have not yet been extracted, one ranger came up with an idea to place motion cameras around the site.

A report from Bloomberg Businessweek said that the ranger found images of a truck with a driver identified as Hughes from the cameras’ memory cards, a month later.

A search warrant was granted to look after Hughes, and the authorities found a burl on his property, which ended up matching the one from the park. This led to his arrest over vandalism charges, receiving stolen property, grand theft, among many others.

Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Steven Seward, who handled the prosecution, said that a maximum fine should be imposed “given the extent of the damage to irreplaceable shared natural resources and the importance of deterring such behavior,” a press release said.

But seeing the case in another perspective, Judge Christopher Wilson lessened the sentence to community service as well as probation. Hughes was also banned from entering the park.

This triggered several reactions in social media, denouncing the reduced sentence for the poacher, SFGate reported.

“Such a shame there were NO real consequences for his heinous behavior,” one internet user said. “He should at least have had 1 year prison sentence. Otherwise there is nothing in place to stop him or others from continuing this.”

“If the penalty is too minor he’ll be back at it,” another added. “That poor tree.”