The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and partnering agencies recently made arrests stemming from walnut timber theft cases in west-central Missouri.
Joni Bledsoe, protection district supervisor, said investigations have led to multiple felony and misdemeanor charges against eight suspects. Most of the thefts were from public land in the Truman Lake area, but some thefts were also reported on private land.
The MDC estimates the overall saw log value of the stolen walnut trees was $61,804. These trees were taken off public lands in Henry, Benton, St. Clair and Vernon counties.
Bledsoe said the trees had scenic value to people, and food and habitat value to wildlife. The walnut trees stolen from public lands were taken from protected MDC areas and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land.
The felony charges filed to date in Henry, Benton, and St. Clair counties include 14 counts of stealing, three counts of property damage, three counts of receiving stolen property and one count of possession of a controlled substance. Eight misdemeanor charges have also been filed.
Bledsoe said authorities exercising search warrants also recovered a heavy-duty winch and bracket stolen from a commercial tree service truck valued at $6,300, batteries stolen from MDC bulldozers valued at $1,590, a chain saw stolen from a sawmill in Polk County valued at $810, another chainsaw stolen in Cedar County valued at $810 and a tailgate stolen in an El Dorado Springs theft.
The conservation department and other law enforcement agencies continue to investigate additional timber thefts and more charges could be forthcoming.
Bledsoe said the investigation began early in 2018 and has involved dozens of MDC personnel, including 20 conservation agents along with staff from the Forestry, Wildlife and Resource Science Divisions.
Conservation department investigators also had assistance for the sheriff’s departments in Benton, Cedar, Henry, St. Clair and Vernon counties. El Dorado Springs Police Department and rangers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also assisted with the investigations.
“Cooperation has been the name of the game since the walnut theft investigations started,” Bledsoe said. “The teamwork has been outstanding.”
The MDC asks the public to be on the alert for illegal timber theft and report any suspicious activity to the Operation Game Thief hotline at 1-800-392-1111. They may also contact their local conservation agent.