Men accused of cutting trees at college
A forest can be a tempting place if you own a chain saw and a woodstove.
Frank McCreary, 29, and Kirk Gniazdowski, 41, both of South Lake Tahoe, received citations from the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department, which accuses them of illegal wood cutting. The alleged cutting occurred last week at the edge of a meadow owned by Lake Tahoe Community College behind O’Malley Drive.
A neighbor worried that a tree would fall on their house called deputies to the meadow around dusk on Nov. 24 where they noticed about 20 downed trees that ranged between 6 and 28 inches in diameter, said Tom Finn, director of maintenance and operations for LTCC.
“We have not cut any trees over there,” Finn said. “In my mind, if any tree was cut down it was by them.”
McCreary and Gniazdowski were in the meadow and had chain saws with them when law enforcement arrived. At first they told a deputy they had permission to cut the trees, then they said the trees were on the ground when they got there, according to El Dorado County sheriff’s Sgt. Don Atkinson.
Phone messages requesting comment from both men were not returned Thursday.
Atkinson said a deputy contacted the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and confirmed that all of the land involved in the tree cutting incident was owned by the college.
“Illegal tree cutting and wood collection is a problem in nearly every National Forest area,” said Rex Norman, Forest Service public affairs officer. “Here in the Tahoe basin it has occasionally occurred, and violators have been cited and fined upon conviction.”
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which is charged with protecting the environment at the basin, said it is looking into the incident.
“We are doing site visits just to investigate,” said Julie Regan, TRPA communications director. “We are also having conversations with a representative of the college and the sheriff’s department. After those meetings, we’ll make the determination if we need to be involved.”
Wood cutting can become a more serious crime if the people who cut the timber intend to sell it, and if the wood is determined to be worth more than $400, said Hans Uthe, assistant district attorney for El Dorado County.
The tickets issued to McCreary and Gniazdowski were for misdemeanors. The punishment for a misdemeanor is up to six months in jail, a $500 fine and other penalties.
– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at email@example.com