Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Timber theft on the rise; here are tips to prevent it

The demand for American hardwoods overseas has grown in recent years, and as result, some loggers are cashing in — by cutting down someone else's trees. Timber theft and timber trespass are not new, but "as timber values rise, so have the stakes for landowners — and the attitude of law enforcement is adjusting accordingly," Samira Jafari of The Associated Press reported recently.

The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky., reported last month on theft of timber from an elderly couple who "
told police a crew of loggers came onto their property last month and cut and removed red and white oak trees valued at more than $50,000. One of the trees was at least 60 inches in diameter, the couple said." (Eagle photo shows logs left behind.) The couple wrote a letter to the Eagle saying that the man in charge of the timbering crew offered them $1,700 after the fact. "We wanted to leave those trees to our children and our grandchildren," they wrote. "It was their inheritance and we have worked our whole lives to save that for them. We are not wealthy people so this hurts us more than most." (Read more)

For your readers, listeners and viewers, here are some tips for timber owners from Jeff Stringer, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture: To protect their property, owners should know their property boundaries and have them marked. If the land is remote, an owner should have someone keep an eye on the property, and owners should notify adjacent owners that they do not want their timber logged. If timber trespass does occur, owners have recourse. In Kentucky, for example, landowners are entitled to three times the value of the timber logged and three times the value of the damages caused by the trespass. For more tips and background, click here.

Timber theft is when someone intentionally steals tress from an owner, while timber trespass is when a logger cuts down an adjacent landowner's trees. States such as Mississippi and Virginia have established specific timber theft laws, while other states such as Kentucky do not have such statutes, Jafari reports. The problem is a big one for Appalachian states such as Kentucky — a 2003 Virginia Tech study said those areas lose $4 million annually to timber thieves. In Kentucky, the Appalachian Roundtable, a group of forestry experts, law enforcement officials and others, is working to raise awareness of the problem and lobby the state to make timber theft a felony. (Read more) A broader source of information is the National Woodland Owners Association.

"Data on timber theft is hard to come by because, experts say, much of it goes unreported, and many states lump it with other crimes under general property theft handled at the local level," reports Susan Saulny of The New York Times, which ran this Jon Gilbert Fox photo of George Spaulding of Royalton, Vt., with remains of a theft. “We have not been able to determine whether it’s any worse in one place or another,” Alberto Goetzl, a forest economist who is studying the extent of domestic illegal logging, told Saulny. “What we have learned is that the concern about timber theft is greater than I thought before I went into this.” (Read more)

Many woodlands have absentee landowners, who find it difficult to monitor their property or get satisfaction after they are robbed. Dean Manning and Tara Kaprowy of The Sentinel-Echo in London, Ky., write today about a family that lost more than 60,000 board feet of timber to a thief in Letcher County, home of The Mountain Eagle.

"After nine trial dates in Letcher Circuit Court, a special prosecutor reached a plea bargain with Josh Baker, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor (under $300) theft charge," without the family's consent, the Sentinel-Echo reports. Family member Ray Fields told the thrice-weekly paper, 'The sentence calls for Baker to pay us $9,000 at $400 per month and put him on two years of unsupervised probation. I told my sister, "This is happening because we don’t live in Letcher County and don’t vote in Letcher County."'" (Read more)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Federal Government needs to pass a law and require states to cooperate in enforcing it.

I recently had 45 mature trees taken, in spite of certified mail stating that the lines the loggers placed were disputed.

The monetary burden is forced onto the adjacent property of those logging, or onto property owners. The cost to survey a large area of trees and posting legally required notices economically prohibits your normal property owner from legal protection of property rights.

Suppose it cost you $5,000 to paint signs on your house "no trespassing" and then find out that someone, in broad daylight comes, removes a window and steals from you. By not paying a huge sum of money (an unfair burden on the forest property owner) they are not afforded protection by the law.

Even if you catch the thieves - guess who estimates the value of the timber? Forester Consultants. Ask the fox to count the chickens in the henhouse????? 50 trees (some oaks as large as 30 inches in diameter) valued at $1,400. These trees provided a buffer, yet VA law caps replanting costs at $450 an acre. There is no way that a forest owner can be reimbursed for the full value because the law limits, by stipulating 30 day reporting requirements, forester consultants to estimate, and mandating 100 foot orange markers (requiring a $4,000 survey) to enforce a law against timber theft.

Then add a contrary neighbor who wishes to monetarily harass - and you can include thousands ($5,000 - $50,000) in court costs.

This is just like BP and the Federal Agency that was to be enforcing provisions.

Why waste tax dollars on passing laws that limit protections for property owners - and actually increase the economic profitability to timber thieves?

Thoroughly disgusted with our joke of a judicial system,