Typically when someone thinks of thefts, he probably thinks in terms of cash, lawn equipment, vehicles, jewelry, etc. But how many people think in terms of trees?
Well, apparently timber theft is becoming a big issue in Georgia. And the Georgia Forestry Association is hoping that the upcoming session of the Georgia Legislature will put more teeth into laws that confront this issue, said Wayne Bell, associated with the International Forest Company here in Moultrie.
Bell said timber thefts occur two ways. One often involves absentee property owners as victims. In this case, someone who is cutting timber crosses over property lines and harvests someone else’s trees.
Another instance is when someone contracts with an unscrupulous timber dealer who is fraudulent in their estimations of timber values.
“I just recently was contacted by a landowner out of Tift County who said he entered a contract with someone and then found out that this person he bargained with was incarcerated,” said Bell.
Bell encourages anyone who is not experienced in timber sales and would like to sell their trees to make sure they are dealing with certified consultants who are registered with the state.
“It’s about taking care of business. Check it out. Lots of certified consultants are registered. Get quality opinions,” he said.
Bell said an unscrupulous non-certified person might value someone’s timber at $20,000 when it might actually be worth $60,000 or $80,000.
And he said it’s not unheard of for an unscrupulous timber buyer to venture onto other properties if the owners are seldom around.
“Sometimes family members inherit a piece of timber property and they don’t know a lot about it,” said Bell, noting that such a circumstance might set them up to get taken.
Bell has been in the forestry business for more than 40 years in Georgia and Florida.
A recent news release from the Georgia Forestry Association said, “As if Georgia's woodland owners didn't have enough to worry about — wildfires, pine beetles, low timber prices — now they can add one more to the list. Timber theft is nothing new, but it has reached a level in Georgia that has gained the attention of the state's leading forest advocacy group.”
Recently, a new task force of the Georgia Forestry Association addressed the matter head on for more than four hours. As a result, a series of educational initiatives will soon be launched to highlight steps that landowners can take to prevent the theft of their trees. The association also will pursue legislative remedies to the growing problem of timber theft when the General Assembly convenes in January, attempting to make penalties tougher and prosecution easier.
“Fighting timber theft will be a dominant focus of the association's work for the foreseeable future,” said GFA president Steve McWilliams. “Growing a tract of timber for 20 or 30 years and then having it taken from you without payment is not acceptable, and we're committed to stopping it.”
The task force includes representatives from pulp mills, logging contractors, forestry consultants, timber security professionals and landowners who are the victims of timber theft.
The association points out that while timber theft laws need to be strengthened and law enforcement needs to better understand the nature of timber theft, there are a number of steps that woodland owners can take to avoid becoming timber theft victims. They should clearly mark timber sale boundaries, obtain multiple references before engaging a contractor to conduct a timber harvest, and, perhaps most importantly, utilize a reputable consulting forester to assist in timber transactions.
“Not using a qualified forestry consultant can be penny wise and pound foolish,” noted McWilliams. “It makes sense to seek professional assistance when so much is at stake.”
Woodland owners should be aware that timber buyers regularly involved in stealing timber will often attempt to buy timber outside of their normal market area where no one knows them or their reputation.
Absentee landowners who do not live on or near their property should provide adjacent landowners with their contact information and ask them to keep an eye on their woodlands. It is helpful to inform adjacent landowners when a harvest is about to take place, or to let them know that a timber harvest is not anticipated on the property.