Timber Theft

Only the crunch of gravel mars the predawn quiet as a truck, headlights off, rolls to a stop. Working quickly, professional bandits round up your unsuspecting timber. As your herd of prized trees is prodded toward the tailgate ramp, their soft mewling is barely audible amidst all the rustling…

While it does at times parallel cattle rustling, with skilled thieves whisking away a few exceptionally valuable trees in an early-morning or weekend raid, timber theft encompasses more than outright banditry. How much more, exactly, is a matter of debate. There are still law enforcement agencies which view a clear-cut (so to speak) timber theft, even one that amounts to tens of thousands of dollars (According to a 2007 SUNY ESF survey, the average value of timber in NYS stolen per event was $10,650.), as a civil matter akin to a boundary dispute. On the other hand, some foresters believe that every timber sale not conducted by an honest forester is theft. All agree, though, that this crime is a theft that keeps on taking, in that it can undo years of good management, and require decades for recovery.

Forest owners need to learn how to protect themselves against the many faces of timber theft. In a strict legal sense, timber theft is the removal of trees without the landowner’s knowledge and consent, á là timber rustling. Breach of contract is also theft, although except in rare cases where the buyer uses an alias or knowingly passes a bad check, it’s a matter for the civil courts (small claims for losses under $3,000, and State Supreme Court for losses greater than that). If a timber buyer pays a fraction of the value to a landowner who doesn’t know any better, it’s only considered theft if the seller is compromised by age, illness or dementia, though again it’s a civil matter. Otherwise, deception is either an ethical and moral offense or good business practice, depending on one’s point of view.

It seems fair to ask how a shoplifter can get nabbed for pocketing a pack of gum but a team of chainsaw-brandishing crooks with heavy equipment can make off with thousands of board feet of timber without attracting attention. Timber theft is easier than most people imagine. The setting is always rural, frequently remote, and the owners are often absentee. High-value hardwoods in the northeast are especially enticing. Black cherry, sugar maple and red oak are among the most sought-after species.

The more valuable the goods are, the more they need watching. Store owners take inventory, but who’s minding shop in our forests? Absentee owners need to be especially vigilant about marking boundaries, blocking access points, visiting often and keeping in contact with owners of adjacent properties. Sometimes thieves “tunnel” in from an adjacent property where they may have a legitimate harvesting job (if a logger who readily steals can be said to have a “legitimate” job). The best protection against this type of “stealth robbery” is to have extremely well-marked boundaries. While it’s hard to say how many trespass thefts are deliberate, the consensus among professionals is that most are not.

When dealing with theft, landowners should refuse payment for stolen timber. This may seem counter-intuitive, but accepting any money shifts the issue from criminal to civil jurisdiction, and may even spoil the chances of a civil settlement as well. New York State now has very stiff penalties for criminal timber theft, but if a logger approaches an absentee landowner with an apology and a check for “accidentally” cutting a few trees on his or her land, that logger can now go back and harvest the rest of that parcel with impunity. Victims of timber theft should immediately contact an Environmental Conservation Officer, State Trooper, or Sheriff.

When it comes to violating contracts, the Sheriff isn’t going to help you resolve disputes about vague language in the contract. Fuzzy wording, removal of unmarked trees, failure to pay in full, and neglecting to put erosion controls in place following the sale are but a few of the ways landowners can be defrauded. It’s best to proceed slowly, get input from professionals, and double-check communications. Have an expert legal eye run through the contract and hire a forester to manage timber sales to help avoid breach of contract.

That isn’t to say that having a forester guarantees the desired outcome. When foresters work on a percentage basis, some will be tempted to forego best management practices in favor of value. Ideally, fees should be based on an acreage or hourly basis instead of a percentage of sales revenue.

Regarding deception, is it theft or good business practice? Almost any professional forester would say it’s theft. Retired DEC forester Charlie Mowatt, an unflagging champion of good forest management, told me that owners and managers need to get back to silviculture and away from “silverculture,” short-term gain at the expense of long-term productivity.

To prevent timber theft, we must challenge our complacency as landowners about our vulnerability, challenge public officials to be more responsive in pursuing theft, and challenge the short-sightedness of “good business practices” that undermine our long-term well being. And we need to get out in our woodlots more often, especially when the leaves are on and we can listen to the gentle rustling.

Views: 63


You need to be a member of CornellForestConnect to add comments!

Join CornellForestConnect


How long do brush cutter blades work?

Started by Joanne Vaughn in Woodlot Management 21 hours ago. 0 Replies

I dunno maybe it's because time flies when it's multiflora rose and buckthorns that are getting whacked. It seems that these blades are needing retirement after 8 or so hours.   Is this typical for this type of material. WIde range of material but…Continue

Tags: cutter, brush

Nitrogen fixing bacteria for Alder trees

Started by Joanne Vaughn in Woodlot Management. Last reply by Joanne Vaughn on Friday. 7 Replies

I am thinking of starting some alder trees from seed for planting into an area that does not and has not hosted alders.  How can I gain the nitrogen fixing bacteria for inoculation of the roots ?  Continue

Seeking advice on controlling oriental bittersweet

Started by Kristen Whitbeck in Woodlot Management. Last reply by Lew Ward Apr 15. 2 Replies

A student in my silviculture class is seeking relayed the scenario below. If anyone has any tips or tricks I will gladly pass them along. Thanks in advance!"Oriental bittersweet is choking out my mature white pine trees and my mature apple trees.…Continue

Tags: bittersweet, Oriental

Are Gall's a reason to cull Hickory trees?

Started by Thomas Wilson in Forest Health. Last reply by Ron Goodger Apr 7. 8 Replies

I'll take a photo, but in the meantime....I have a lot of bitternut hickory and some shagbark as well.  I haven't yet noticed any on the shagbark, but about half of the bitternut have gall's.  They get up to about 3 inches in diameter.  Some tree's…Continue

Removal of grass around seedlings in pasture

Started by Joanne Vaughn in Woodlot Management. Last reply by Peter Smallidge Mar 19. 11 Replies

Even after the timely discussion of "green lie" this week, I am still unsure of the best method to eliminate grassy vegetation around the pine, cedar and oak seedlings we are putting in this spring. I feel this is very important because we lost a…Continue

Saving Trees With Tree-Eating Mushrooms

Started by Lew Ward in Forest Health Feb 27. 0 Replies

Saving Trees With Tree-Eating MushroomsControl of Amellaria Shoe-string Rot Fungushttps://youtu.be/FPeBYnGwo4YContinue

Electric Fencing

Started by Carl DuPoldt in Agroforestry Jan 21. 0 Replies

Electric Deer Fence WorkshopLuke Freeman hosted a workshop at the incubator farm in Fayetteville, AR to demonstrate the use of the solar-powered electric deer fence. Luke built the fence with help from Extension specialist Kenny Simon and County…Continue

Beech control with triclopyr versus glyphosate

Started by Peter Smallidge in Woodlot Management. Last reply by Joanne Vaughn Nov 20, 2019. 3 Replies

[I'm pasting from a recent email thread]Question - I'm working on a couple beech regen and mid story control projects.   I have been using Garlon 4 in oil.   Works good, but sometimes I want it to move through the roots and the Garlon doesn't do…Continue



© 2020   Created by Peter Smallidge.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service