A man from southeastern Manitoba has been formally charged in court for allegedly illegally cutting down Christmas trees.
Manitoba Natural Resources and Northern Development says the investigation began following a tip from the public. Then, on December 13th, conservation officers observed a suspect bringing trees out of a Crown land plantation north of Marchand. According to the province, the plantation is a valuable test area that grows high-quality trees for planting in forestry renewal projects across southern Manitoba.
Officers seized 30 black spruce trees and a chainsaw. Another 18 trees that had been cut but not yet removed were also seized from the plantation. In all, a total of 167 trees had been cut and the majority of these trees were between 20 and 30 feet tall, with only the tops removed.
The province says the suspect indicated that he was selling the trees at his business in Steinbach.
Forty-four-year-old Mark Neufeld has been charged under the Forest Act of Manitoba for cutting/ removing timber on Crown forest land without a license or permit. If convicted, he faces a fine of up to $50,000 or up to six months in jail or both. A corporation would face fines of up to $250,000 for a first offence. In addition, there will be a requirement to pay provincial forestry dues.
According to the province, the plantation's missing and damaged trees are a significant loss that negatively impacts long-term sustainable forest management projects in southern Manitoba. The trees were donated to a Ukrainian church in Winnipeg to help newcomers enjoy their first holiday season in Canada.
Neufeld was selling trees at Pop's Tree Shop. The holiday pop-up shop was located at the intersection of Highway 12 and 52 in Steinbach, prior to Christmas. In an interview late last year, Neufeld told Steinbachonline.com that they have locally-raised as well as more exotic, hand-selected farmed trees. He noted their local trees were spruce and specialty pine from landowners and woodlots in the southeast. He notes their more exotic trees were Balsam fir and Fraser fir out of Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.
Since news broke of the allegations, their social media accounts have been deactivated.
Neufeld's next court appearance is scheduled for February 9th in Steinbach. In addition to these charges, Neufeld has also been charged with theft under $5,000 for an offence on July 27, 2022. He will appear in Steinbach court on this charge on January 19th.