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Originally published Friday, March 13, 2009 at 6:00 PM

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Wash state: 'Ax Men' crew salvaged logs illegally

The Washington state Department of Natural Resources has seized more than two dozen logs it says a timber crew featured on the History Channel's reality show 'Ax Men' salvaged illegally.

Associated Press Writer

SEATTLE —

The Washington state Department of Natural Resources has seized more than two dozen logs it says a timber crew featured on the History Channel's reality show 'Ax Men' salvaged illegally.

DNR officers served a search warrant Friday on S&S Aqua Logging to retrieve timber the company had pulled from the Hoquiam River without a permit, said the agency's chief enforcement officer, Larry Raedel.

Officers were tipped off after watching the popular series, which chronicles the lives of Pacific Northwest timber cutters, including a father-son team from Aberdeen-based S&S Aqua Logging.

DNR officials discovered that the company did not have a permit from DNR or the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to salvage those logs from the riverbed.

"These are valuable materials that belong to the public and this looks like theft, plain and simple," state Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said.

An Associated Press call and e-mail to the company and e-mails seeking comment from the History Channel were not immediately returned.

"We determined that this outfit was taking logs that were submerged in the mud," Raedel said. "They were taking it illegally."

Greg Hueckel, fish and wildlife habitat programs director, said logs in the river belong to the state.

Logs provide a key function for rivers in trapping sediment, harboring insects and other food for fish, and creating pools and riffles where fish can rest.

"They are part of the functioning ecosystem, so removing the log would be like removing part of the bed," he said.

Hueckel said his agency does grant permits to remove logs but typically in situations where flooding causes log jams. It's unlikely that a permit would be granted for timber harvest, he said.

On Friday, DNR officials searched property near Hoquiam in Grays Harbor County. Raedel said the company had been storing salvaged logs there with permission from the property owner.

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Grays Harbor Undersheriff Rick Scott said his deputies assisted in executing the search warrant.

The timber seized included 20 mature trees as well as smaller wood products, between six and 10 feet in length. The largest logs are about 20 to 30 feet long and about three feet in diameter, Raedel said.

Jimmy Smith, who owns and operates S&S Aqua Logging, said on the show that the logs were worth about $10,000, according to search warrant records.

When "Ax Men" debuted last year, it became the History Channel's most popular series with more than 2 million weekly viewers. This season began airing March 2 and features two timber crews from Washington, two from Oregon and one from Montana.

In one video posted on the show's Web site, Smith, a fourth-generation logger, is shown floating down a river in a boat, scanning for logs. "We're normal guys that do extraordinary things," he said.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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