An Iron Range man will pay a fine and restitution for cutting down and stealing roughly 1,200 birch trees from state land in northern Minnesota. It marks the first case of "timber trespass" involving birch trees yielding a charge above a misdemeanor, state officials said.
David A. Lawrence, 41, of Aurora, pleaded guilty last week in St. Louis County District Court to timber trespass on state lands, a gross misdemeanor, in connection with stealing the paper-barked trees, which are a popular form of home decor and the target of illegal harvesting in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The agreement calls for Lawrence to serve one year of unsupervised probation, pay a $900 fine and make restitution for the damage he inflicted over a few days in March 2017 southwest of Embarrass in woods off Tower Biwabik Road.
The felled trees were valued at roughly $3,400, which includes the trees and the cost to repair the damage to the woodlands, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). A harvester can generally sell each tree, referred to as a pole, for about $1.
As for two men who were with Lawrence, the DNR said they were not charged because they are American Indian and were cutting in an area covered by a treaty from the 1850s.
A gross misdemeanor was the most serious level of charge possible in the incident, the DNR said.
Harvesting birch is legal in some areas, with proper permitting from the state or permission from a private landowner.
Permitting allows the state to manage the resource; otherwise, the long-term supply of birch in the state is threatened, according to the DNR.