Authorities have charged a brother and sister duo, accusing them of working together to have a historic black walnut tree cut down on public land near Cleveland.
The tree, located in Cleveland Metropark’s Mill Stream Run Reservation, was worth about $28,000 and was one of Ohio’s largest trees, according to police and park officials, Cleveland.com reported.
The tree was believed to be centuries old.
“We suspect the tree was possibly over 250 years old,” Jacqueline Gerling, Cleveland Metroparks communications director, told Fox News. “Given our urban setting and the threats to healthy tree growth, it is very uncommon to find a black walnut of this size.”
The tree was felled by a logging company in September, and only the stump remained, according to Cleveland.com. The outlet said the tree was 5 1/2 feet wide and 207 inches in circumference. In comparison, the circumferences of the two largest known black walnut trees in Ohio are 227 and 211 inches.
In January, authorities charged 56-year-old Bay Village resident Todd Jones and 54-year-old Elyria resident Laurel Hoffman with grand theft and falsification in the case, according to the news outlets.
Both charges constituted fourth-degree felonies, according to Cleveland.com.
Per phone interviews that Cleveland.com had with Jones and Hoffman, the duo insisted the tree belonged to them. Jones, who possesses land adjacent to the park, argued that for years his family thought the tree stood within his property’s boundaries.
“This is so ridiculous that they’re doing this,” Jones told Cleveland.com.
Should the brother/sister duo have done more research on the tree?
“This is insane. There was no ill intent.”
According to a police report, an officer said Jones had bought the property recently from Debra Jones, Fox News said. Debra was Jones’ late father’s wife, who reportedly suffered from financial issues due to owning a house on the property.
According to Fox News, Debra had failed to pay up to $15,000 in taxes.
“Todd Jones told her that he was ‘sendin’ … people out there to take that [tree] down,’ which would ‘help pay for some of the taxes,’” an officer noted in the police report, according to the outlet.
According to police, a land survey determined the tree “was located on Cleveland Metroparks land, 7.5 feet from Todd Jones’ property line,” Fox News reported.
“Black walnut is one the most valuable hardwood species in North America and is sought after for timber production,” the police report said.
According to Fox News, police said Hoffman had hired a logging company to cut down the tree in September.
The logging company’s owner said that when the company asked Hoffman if the property had been surveyed, she said, “It was all surveyed, and it is our tree,” per the police report.
According to authorities, Jones is accused of paying $2,000 to the logging company for chopping down the tree. Fox News reported that company then sold the tree for about $10,000 to a lumber manufacturer, the police report stated.
The logging company, however, later was cleared of criminal liability after authorities determined the owner “took reasonable on-site measures to verify (and was assured by Hoffman, both verbally and in writing) that the tree was on Todd Jones’ property,” Fox reported.
Black Walnut trees are valuable due to their high-quality lumber, which often is used to manufacture furniture, musical instruments and veneer, according to Cleveland.com.
Metroparks Natural Resources Director Jennifer Grieser told Cleveland.com that the trees also are the habitats of multiple animals, including 23 to 100 kinds of caterpillars.