A Clear Cut Extreme

US Forest Service offers $5,000 reward for those responsible for clear cutting hundreds of trees in Santa Fe National Forest

Anything for the pow-pow, even if it's a matter of breaking the law.

There are no leads yet, but a $5,000 reward still stands in connection with the arrests and convictions of those responsible for clear cutting a couple hundred trees near the Santa Fe ski basin in what federal officials officials believe was an attempt to make their own ski run.

Julie Anne Overton, a spokeswoman with the Forest Service, tells SFR on Tuesday that the destruction was reported by a hiker in late September after he discovered the felled pines in the Pecos-Santa Fe Wilderness District.

"It looks like whoever did it was arranging some sort of backcountry run because it's this long narrow line," says Overton, who's seen photographs the hiker took of the stumps and says federal investigators believe the instigators were waiting for the winter's snowpack to cover their tracks.

The hiker apparently noticed the missing trees a couple years ago, but only recently did it dawn on him that their numbers continued to grow, and that something illegal must be going on, Overton says. A friend then encouraged him to contact the feds, which he did, sending photos as well.

The trees were not "gargantuan like the Redwoods," says Overton, in explaining how such a fete could be accomplished over the course of 24 months.

The crime is classified as a Class C misdemeanor and is punishable by jail time and/or a fine, she says, emphasizing that cutting just one tree within the wilderness area is illegal.

Mike Gardiner, an assistant special agent in charge of the US Forest Service's Law Enforcement and Investigations, is heading up the investigation. He's taking tips at 842-3363.

There are five designated wilderness districts within the Santa Fe National Forest. They were established decades ago as a conservation area to avoid instances such as the very cutting that apparently has taking place.

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