The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and cooperating agencies including the El Dorado Springs Police department and the Sheriff’s Departments in Cedar St. Clair and Vernon Counties have conducted multiple investigations of walnut timber theft in three counties. These 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, although some thefts on private land were also reported.
According to Protection District Supervisor Joni Bledsoe, 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 also noted the trees had a scenic value to people and a food and habitat value for wildlife. The walnut trees stolen from public lands were taken from MDC conservation areas and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land. Thefts on private land were also reported, including property owned by The Nature Conservancy.
Thus far, eight individuals have been arrested. The felony charges filed to date in Henry, Benton and St. Clair counties include: fourteen counts stealing, three counts of property damage, three counts of receiving stolen property, and one count of possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine). Eight misdemeanor charges have also been filed. MDC and other law enforcement agencies continue to investigate additional timber thefts, including those reported in Vernon County and on U.S. Corps of Engineers property around Truman Lake. More charges could be forthcoming.
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. MDC 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.”
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, plus damage to the equipment, 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, a tailgate stolen in an El Dorado Springs theft, and multiple smaller items stolen in Henry County thefts.
Some of the MDC Conservation Areas where timber thefts occurred include: Birdsong, Linscomb, Kings Prairie, Schell Osage, Osage Prairie, Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie, Urich, and Osage Prairie. Thefts also occurred on MDC-managed Corps of Engineers property at Upper Tebo Creek, Bethlehem, Little Pomme, Salt Creek, and Gallinipper Creek.
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. Timber theft on public land is a loss of resources valued by all Missourians and wildlife. For information about the Operation Game Thief hotline, visit https://short.mdc.mo.gov/ZoB.