When timber theft occurs, landowners can suffer economic loss and potentially face significant environmental damage. It can also spoil years of careful forest management and stewardship planning. If you believe you are the victim of timber theft, please contact your N.C. Forest Service (NCFS) county ranger.
Landowners are strongly encouraged to seek a written contract or timber sale agreement from the timber buyer or logger before any harvesting occurs. Along with having an NCFS county ranger prepare a forest management plan, these preventive measures may fend off timber theft. Not only can the rangers prepare the plan, but they can also offer information on subjects such as sustainable forest management. They’re able to provide contact information for loggers, timber buyers and consulting foresters. Landowners may also consider hiring a private consulting forester who can also write a management plan, advise them of their merchantable timber and provide an estimate of its value.
However, landowners should be cautious of unsolicited offers from self-proclaimed loggers or timber buyers who either call or go door-to-door offering cash for their timber. If a landowner is serious about selling their timber, they should contact the NCFS or a consulting forester before entering into any agreement. Landowners should obtain a variety of quotes from loggers to ensure they are receiving fair market value.
Forest owners should make a habit of walking their woodlot boundaries. If there are logging operations in the area, landowners should walk the line with the adjacent landowner and/or logger to prevent property line misunderstandings. Inspect the property for signs of illegal access or cut trees during, and several days after, the neighbor's harvest. If the landowner is unable 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 on your property intentionally or not, most cases of cut trees are discovered after the fact, perhaps even years later. Once the logs and loggers vacate the property, it becomes extremely difficult to recover financial losses. If you observe timber that 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 contact 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 a simple operator error 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.
Before any harvest activity begins, property lines should be accurately marked. This should be done by the landowner or the consulting forester selling the timber on the landowner's behalf. A map and detailed timber sale contract should also be supplied to every operator on the logging crew. A preharvest 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 for timber trespass cases. Landowners should also make a copy of their property deed 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 their sale policy contract in the event unmarked trees are cut.
If you choose to sell timber yourself, it is important to establish a value for your timber as it is sold. Terms of payment should be established in writing, and the buyer is required to provide the seller with load tickets detailing how much wood for which you are to be paid. Reference NCGS 14-135 and 14-135.1.
Verify 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 assist a landowner with 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 FM-3 Timber Sale Contract Considerations.