Three-year investigation results in conviction of man named ‘Weed Eater’

DECATUR COUNTY, Tenn. — Timber theft is a growing problem not only in Tennessee, but nationwide.

A law enforcement specialist spoke to WBBJ 7 Eyewitness about a recent case in Decatur County.

A fresh-cut tree stump is evidence of the work of timber thieves on Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge between 2019 and 2022. Sunset on Duck River Unit of Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge. Stumps and damage from the felling and theft of three white oak trees on Duck River Unit at Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge. (Photographs taken by Jared Allsbrooks/USFWS)

A federal wildlife officer’s investigation into the illegal felling, removal, and sale of highly valuable timber from public lands in Tennessee led to the conviction of Adam Baugus, also named “Weed Eater.”

“It was just a simple call from somebody who had observed some individuals cutting a white oak tree on Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge,” said Jared Allsbrooks, a Senior Law Enforcement Specialist with the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

He said they were very careful about when and where they would take down trees.

Allsbrooks said they would cut down only one or two trees and would not do it again for weeks at a time, traveling miles away from their last tree removal.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service says that an estimated $1.5 million worth of century-old timber was taken.

He talked about how serious of a problem timber theft can be, beyond the cost.

“Some people see it as a victimless crime and it’s not. These are public lands. We want to ensure that the general public, our kids, their kids, our grandkids, for generations can continue to enjoy outdoor recreation in these areas,” Allsbrooks said.

He says over the last three years, there has been a “huge” increase in timber theft from coast to coast.

“And I think is varies from place to place. I mean some people are hitting I think public lands because we have a lot of old growth, more mature timber. It’s harder to find those on private lands. And those veneer trees, those veneer quality trees, bring a premium cost,” Allsbrooks said.

With some of these trees being hundreds of years old, simply planting new trees does not fix the issue.

He says taking them could hurt the soil, wildlife, and take shade from competing plants.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service says that Baugus was sentenced to 18 months in prison and was fined $250,000 after pleading guilty to two counts of theft of government property.

You can read more about the investigation here.

Find more local news here.

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