When timber theft occurs landowners can suffer economic loss and be faced with significant environmental damage. It can also do damage to years of careful forest management and stewardship planning.
Landowners can prevent timber theft on their property by taking proactive measures such as contacting their N.C. Forest Service (NCFS) county ranger and having a forest management plan prepared. Rangers can not only prepare the plan but they also offer information on their subjects such as sustainable forest management. They can also provide contact lists of loggers, timber buyers and consulting foresters. Landowners may also consider hiring a private consulting forester who can also write a management plan and advise them of their merchantable timber and provide an estimate of its value.
However, landowners should be leery of unsolicited offers from self proclaimed loggers who either call or knock on the door offering cash for their timber. If a landowner is serious about selling their timber they should contact the N.C. Forest Service or a consulting forester before entering into any agreement and be sure to get several quotes from loggers to ensure they are receiving fair market value for the timber.
Forest owners should also make a habit of walking the boundaries of their woodlots. If there are any logging operations in the area, landowners should walk the line with the adjacent landowner and/or logger to prevent property line misunderstandings. They should inspect the property during, and several days after, the neighbor's harvest looking for signs of illegal access or cut trees. If the landowner isn't able to do this they should consider hiring a consulting forester to inspect the forest for them. Hunters and recreationists who are on the land with permission, as well as neighbors and others, may also be willing to help keep an eye on the property. The fact that the property is being watched may help prevent harvesting mistakes or timber theft.
Whether a logger is intentionally on your property or not, in most cases the cut trees are discovered after the fact, perhaps years later. Once the logs and the logger leave the property, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to recover financial losses. If you notice that timber has been cut on your property you should consider addressing the issue with the logger. If the logger is unresponsive to your concerns or you are unable to locate them, call your local county sheriff's office. A consulting forester can also help you address these issues, especially if you have a well written forest management plan.
The vast majority of loggers and timber buyers are honest professionals who take pride in their timber harvests, appreciate long-term stewardship planning and respect environmental values. However, an unethical logger or timber buyer may trespass on property to steal timber; this may occur when an adjoining property is being harvested. Most property boundaries in forests are obscure, giving timber thieves a good excuse for removing trees through unauthorized logging. If your boundary lines are unclear, a survey by a licensed surveyor would be a wise investment. Property boundaries should be well-marked with posted signs or paint and should be inspected annually.
It needs to be noted that not all timber trespasses are intentional. Sometimes it is simply an operator mistake brought about by overlapping property descriptions or incorrectly marked cutting lines. In many cases the loggers work for timber buyers who are responsible for marking the property lines. Timber buyers should protect themselves and those working for them by getting title searches on the timber they are buying. This ultimately protects the buyer of the timber, the individual selling the timber, and the adjacent landowners.
Prior to any harvest activity the property lines should be properly marked. This is an activity that should be done by the landowner, or consulting forester selling the timber on the landowner's behalf, before any logging equipment arrives on site. A map and detailed timber sale contract should also be supplied to every operator on the logging crew. A pre-harvest meeting should be held with the consulting forester, timber buyer, wood dealer, landowner, or anyone else that is involved with the harvest operation. Unmarked property lines tend to be the leading cause in timber trespass cases. Landowners should also make a copy of the deed to their property and have it available. This will help protect the landowner by clearly defining ownership of the property. Landowners should have the perimeter of the harvest marked and document/explain their sale contract policy if unmarked trees are cut.
Check credentials of consulting foresters, timber buyers and loggers when you invite them to harvest your timber. In many cases registered foresters are employed by logging companies. A registered forester is held to ethical and technical business standards and can function to purchase, supervise and help execute timber sales. A registered forester will aid a landowner in understanding the value of their timber so they can be assured of receiving fair market value. Landowners should also carefully review any proposed contract to ensure it addresses their best interests. If they need help with the contracting process, landowners should consider hiring a consulting forester. For more complex situations a contract attorney may be warranted. You should also read the Forestry Leaflet Timber Sale Contract Considerations.