The Situation: The Bluestone Project Theft

The Situation: The Bluestone Project Theft
The Bluestone Project is located in Giles County, Virginia. It is a US Army Corps of Engineers Flood Damage Reduction project designed to inhibit flood-level water flow along both the New River and the Bluestone River.

The project’s federally protected area is a fertile habitat for growth of certain trees and plants, including black walnut trees, which are among the largest and longest living hardwood trees in the United States.

The US Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers investigated the case.

As with private timber sales, the cost of timber theft depends on the marketplace, the law of supply and demand. Since trees on federally protected land tend to be more mature, the price value tends to be at the high end. The Bluestone Project case described below involves the theft of Black Walnut trees which are prized for making fine furniture.

Over the past year, the tree value of Black Walnuts has ranged from $5 to $10 per board foot but can be higher in some cases. In this case, one tree was sold to a timber dealer in Lindside, West Virginia for $1,359. It is unclear whether the buyer was aware that the trees were stolen. Several factors impact the value of the trees. The first is size. Taller, more mature trees yield more boards and are more valuable than shorter, narrower trees. Threes are also graded based on condition, blemishes, knots, and the color of the wood, etc.

Many tree thieves who seek to make a quick dollar from timber theft may not even realize the significant environmental harms of their conduct. In fact, the defendant in this case based much of his argument on his economic challenges including the fact that he entered the workforce as an eighth-grader and can barely read and write. 

The Perpetrators
William Riley Stump, 52, of Narrows, Virginia, was sentenced on March 17 to four months in prison for illegally removing walnut trees from the Bluestone Project Federally protected land. As part of a plea bargain, 22 additional charges against Stump were dismissed. Judge Dillon, who presided over this case, directed that he be evaluated for drug treatment following his release. She also imposed $3,159 in restitution to the government – the amount that the prosecuting attorney requested. Clearly, the amount is only a small portion of the value of the timber that was lost. It will take decades for those walnut trees to grow back into the logs they were and to restore Bluestone to its previous condition.

According to court documents, Stump, and co-defendants Derrick Anthony Thompson and Justin Wayne Johnson, conspired to cut and remove the trees.

Derrick Thompson was convicted in November of conspiracy. He was acquitted of three additional charges of aiding and abetting in the crime.

I could not find anything on the status of Justin Wayne Johnson. Perhaps we will hear more about him in the future.