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3 Wisconsin students cited for stealing rare 25-foot tree

They stole the tree as part of a "pledge" activity for an unrecognized student group.

Three University of Wisconsin students have been cited for their involvement in stealing a rare 25-foot Algonquin Pillar Swiss Mountain pine from the university's Arboretum last fall. 

The University of Wisconsin Police Department on Friday said a tip from a community member about the early November 2020 pine tree theft at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum led officers to the three 19-year-old students: Cameran Krahn, Cody Knepprath and Joshua Michels. Knepperath is from Oconomowoc, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says, while the hometowns of the other students haven't yet been confirmed. 

According to police, the tip led officers to an unrecognized student organization known as Chi Phi, which was terminated as an official student group in 2015 for hazing. The members said as part of a "pledge," they bought a saw, rented a U-Haul and stole the tree. 

When they learned about how rare the tree was and that the UWPD was investigating, they destroyed it and disposed of it outside the city of Madison, the PD said. 

They've each been cited for removing the tree, which carries a fine of $200.05 each. 

This unusual theft of a rare tree had stumped the UWPD for months and they'd hoped someone in the community would come forward with a tip to solve the case, asking anyone who witnessed a large tree being transported in the area to call the police. 

According to the November news release on the tree, it was cut down sometime between Nov. 5-9, 2020. Another tree, a Compact White Fir, had a 12-foot section cut from the top of the tree, which was then left behind. 

The "very rare" Algonquin Pillar Swiss Mountain Pine was planted in 1988 and the Compact White Fir was planted in 1981. The Arboretum estimated the cost of the stolen tree and damaged tree is at least $13,000, police said. 

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