Updated: 11/15/2013 10:27 AM
Created: 11/15/2013 7:26 AM KSTP.com
By: Jennie Olson
Two people are charged with stealing nearly 2,000 spruce trees from county-managed forestland in northeastern Minnesota.
The two planned to sell the small trees and tree tops as miniature Christmas trees in southern Minnesota, according to charges filed in state district court in Hibbing. The trees were cut over several days on land west of Toivola and taken to private land nearby, authorities said.
Steven George Morterud, 22, and Tara Lynn Herrick, 23, were arrested Nov. 8 and charged with theft of timber, a gross misdemeanor which carries a maximum $3,000 fine and a year in jail upon conviction, according to the Duluth News Tribune. The two were also charged with misdemeanor trespass.
"The total was 1,970 trees, and they said they are getting from $6 to $9 per tree top, so it would have been a felony theft had it gone through," said state Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Don Bozovsky. "We get these illegal cuts just about every year, but this is the biggest one I've had."
Government land managers often sell the rights for loggers to cut black spruce where it's overabundant. Loggers usually bid on tracts of black spruce in August, with the highest bidder getting a permit to cut in a specific area in October and November, said Mark Webber, director of St. Louis County's Land and Minerals Department.
"They just went in there with a shears and lopped them off," Bozovsky said. "Normally they (land agencies) issue the permits for mature spruce stands were they want to see some cutting as part of forest management."
Cutting young trees near their base causes uneven and deformed regrowth, Bozovsky added.
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