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Jury convicts man in tree spiking case

A 52-year-old Backus man was found guilty of driving 6-inch nails into more than 500 red pine trees in November on Cass County-owned land that were to be sold at a public timber auction.

Stephen Thomas Olson was found guilty by a jury Friday in Cass County District Court of felony criminal damage to property and gross misdemeanor damage to timber following a three-day trial. Assistant Cass County Attorney Aaron K. Jordan, who prosecuted the case, said the jury deliberated for about three hours before returning the verdict.

On Nov. 15, a Cass County Land Department forest resource manager visiting the timber site north of Backus before the harvester moved in found more than 500 trees spiked with six-inch-long ring-shank pole barn nails.

Jordan said the forest resource manager also found a crudely made sign near the gate to the county property. The sign was written on the back of a box from a case of beer and read "II (2) in each tree!" with a smiley face drawn next the words. While the sign said the intent was to put two nails in each tree, Jordan said in most cases only one nail was used.

An investigation by the Cass County Sheriff's Department and tips from the public led to Olson's role in planning and executing the tree spiking, Jordan said.

At trial, Jordan said the jury heard evidence that Olson was angry that the red pines on the county-owned land were going to be logged. On Oct. 31, a person camping on the county land told Olson that loggers would be coming in the next day and, "Mr. Olson became demonstrably angry and made statements to the camper that he was going to spike the trees to prevent logging," Jordan said.

During the course of the following week, Olson and two accomplices - teenage boys with significant ties to Olson - pounded the nails into the trees. The boys' court cases have both been heard in Cass County District court.

Because of the spiked trees and the danger they cause to loggers, Cass County had to sell the entire stand, 165 cords, at $21.52 per cord, Jordan said. Originally, the county had planned to only harvest 14.6 cords from the stand at $77.50 per cord. Cass County sustained $9,236 in damages due to Olson's spiking of the trees, Jordan said.

Following the guilty verdicts on the two charges, Olson was remanded to custody in the Cass County Jail. He will be sentenced Oct. 18 by Judge John P. Smith.

MATT ERICKSON may be reached at