Birch trees have been disappearing from northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, and now a St. Louis County man is being charged with stealing at least some of them.
Officials say 40-year-old David Lawrence chopped down and took 1,200 birch trees from state land. That's $3,411 worth.
According to the criminal complaint:
A conservation officer came across a pile of birch trees in March and saw two men chopping down more. The men said Lawrence of Aurora had left the pile of trees there.
When officials reached out to Lawrence, he admitted to spending the last three days cutting down trees there. Lawrence said he left about 100 birch trees on the ground, and explained he sells the wood to a guy in Wisconsin.
A few days later, Minnesota State Forestry workers surveyed the area and discovered about 1,200 birch trees had been cut down on state land. And Lawrence apparently didn't have a permit to do that.
The 40-year-old is being charged with cutting down timber on state land. It's a gross misdemeanor charge. If he's proven guilty, Lawrence could spend a year in jail, and/or pay a $3,000 fee.
Department of Natural Resources officials tell the Star Tribune the two other men who were cutting down trees with Lawrence were not charged because they're American Indian and are protected by a treaty made in the 1850s.
Birch tree thieves have been a problem
This isn't the first time officials have noticed missing birch trees.
Back in February, the Washburn County Sheriff's Office in northwestern Wisconsin announced that it was looking for some birch tree bandits.
According to the Facebook post, trees had been disappearing all across the county – on state and county land, as well as private property.
The Star Tribune previously reported similar incidents in Minnesota.
Most of the trees cut have been pretty small, so officials believe the bandits are selling the white-barked trees for decoration.