In secluded forests, a tree thievery worth thousands

In the Sandy Mush area, Leicester, North Carolina, United States (US), the best of the trees – lofty hickories and oaks – are gone, some of them thought to have been planted about a hundred years ago.

Conducted by heavy machinery and blade, criminal charges coming from tree theft are nonetheless uncommon. But the other factor that truly makes this a mind-boggling case is that before the trees were razed down to stumps, they were under the ownership, stewardship, and care of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, an organisation whose goal is to preserve the natural scenic beauty and mountain habitats of various forms of wildlife.

“It left me stunned,” Sarah Sheeran, the Conservancy stewardship associate who had discovered the missing trees during a regular check of the property, only accessible through a neighbouring plot of land, said in an interview with the Citizen-Times. “When I came upon the logging area, it was very obvious that it was quite the departure from the surrounding forest. It was clear it had been recently harvested for timber.”

The Conservancy has determined the mill value of the stolen timber – never meant to be harvested – stands around US$25,000 to US$30,000, and anticipates the required ecological restoration and erosion rehabilitation, to bring in additional tens of thousands of dollars.

“One of the big impacts of this timber theft is the erosion that’s created when you go on and remove trees, build the roads and expose bare soil on a steep hillside,” Executive Director of the Conservancy, Carl Silverstein, said. “So one of the things we have an obligation to do is restore that hillside so it doesn’t erode further and damage what’s left of the property.”

They also estimate that the tallest, longest-lived trees sprawled across 10 acres were felled, meaning that not only were the 100-foot (30m) behemoths cut, but the hardiest stock in the location is gone as well.

Illegal felling is classified as a logger who was granted permission to harvest wood on one property, but traverses over to the neighbouring plot of land. Thus, it can be argued that timber theft often boils down to property lines.

The attorney for the Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy, Lach Zemp, believes that a logger was contracted to cut trees from the land neighbouring the Conservancy’s and then crossed over. However, property perimeters are demarcated, such as an old barb-wire fence.

“It is the responsibility of the person harvesting timber to know their boundaries,” Matt Keyes, timber management assistant for the Pisgah National Forest, said.

However, due to the isolation of timbered areas, organisations might not happen upon wrongfully-timbered woods until months after the harvest, when a crew member finds stumps downed by saw where trees are supposed to be.

Source: The Citizen-Times