The sentence for a northern Minnesota man who stole thousands of tree tops from a national forest and sold them so they could be made into Christmas decorations allows him to avoid any time incarcerated. 

Joseph L. Edminster, 70, of Grand Rapids, was sentenced in federal court in St. Paul on Friday to three years’ probation and 200 hours of community service, and ordered to make restitution.

“People need to understand that taking plants or animals from federal lands is a serious crime punishable by substantial fines and even time in federal prison,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Provinzino said in a statement issued upon Edminster’s sentencing. “Mr. Edminster took responsibility for his actions. Had he not, his punishment could have been even more severe.”

Mary King, special agent in charge for the U.S. Forest Service Eastern Region, added that “the penalties reflect the seriousness of the crimes committed against our nation’s natural resources, and we hope they will act as a deterrent in the future.”

According to his guilty plea in January, Edminster cut more than 2,700 tree tops from the Chippewa National Forest worth at least $24,000 in total. Cutting or damaging timber is prohibited on national forest land without proper authorization.

Edminster then sold the tops for $1.50 to $2.50 each to various wholesale vendors, who would then sell each top for up to $6 each to retail outlets in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. The retail cost for individual spruce tops ranges from $2.50 to $7.50 apiece, depending on the height.

Black spruce, a North American pine species, is widespread in the northern United States and Canada. It can be found in northern and northeastern parts of Minnesota, extending as far south as northern Anoka County.