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While the vast majority of loggers are fair and hope to have the landowner as a client again, clearly, some operate very differently. Dishonest loggers are well aware of the fact that many landowners do not know the value of their timber, have no familiarity with hiring an expert to help with a harvest, and do not know standard practices. The vast majority of loggers are honest professionals who take pride in their timber harvests, appreciate long-term stewardship and environmental values.
Some dishonest loggers are very clever. They may trespass, steal, and deceive, taking advantage of the remoteness of the forestalled, and the fact that one can't put a wood lot behind a locked door. Some of the ways in which trespass, timber theft, and deceptive business practices may occur are listed below.
Trespass: Entering another's property without permission; in this case, to steal timber.
Deceptive Practices and Theft: Usually this refers to cases in which the logger is authorized to be on the site, either with or without a contract, and engages in dishonest practices or simply violates the spirit of the letter or agreement with the owner. When trees to be sold are not marked in advance, the owner does not have a good idea of their value, the logger's first offer may unreasonably low. Seller, beware! To avoid being cheated, owners must be informed and be willing to negotiate, or seek advice from state or private foresters.
A tree grown for timber typically should increase in quality (grade) and volume (scale) up to the point where it is fully mature. Overcutting involves taking trees before they have reached maximum value. Agreement or contract payment methods based on a percentage of the cut inherently encourage overcutting.
The dishonest logger may also use one of several underpayment schemes:
Poor contract provisions may lull an owner into feeling secure, but they only serve to protect a dishonest logger at the owner's expense. Some provisions may seem all right when read when they are actually meaningless, such as a logger agreeing to do "the best he can".
Landowners must be responsible for doing all they can to prevent trespass of their lands and to forestall theft and deceptive practices by a logger during a planned harvest. For most landowners, hiring a consulting forester to handle a harvest is a wise investment.
Victims of timber theft almost always lose financially because of the difficulties in prosecuting thieves and gaining full and fair restitution. In addition, long-term management plans can be severely disrupted, and the expected productivity of the woodlot altered for generations.
Owners must do all they can to prevent thefts, and to assure they are not being cheated in a timber sale. There are no second chances. Essential steps to preventing timber theft include:
If you happen to catch a timber thief "red handed," immediately call the closest law enforcement agency, such as your local DEC Law Enforcement office, for a DEC officer or ranger. You may also call your local state police or county sheriff's office.
Whomever you call, explain the circumstances and ask that an officer join you in confronting the logger or loggers. Tell the officer that you wish to file a formal complaint and charges against the logger or loggers.
While it's possible to catch the logger in the middle of a theft on the property, such a theft is much more often discovered after the fact. perhaps even years later, especially if a large public or private landowner does not have the resources to regularly check their property. Once the logs and the logger leave the property, it becomes more and more difficult with each passing day to recover from a timber theft. For that reason, it's a good idea to get in the habit of checking your property as often as you can, or have a neighbor check it for you.
Remember - Prevention is the best defense!
Landowner, beware! YOU are responsible for protecting your property and the timber on it. The law can't effectively help the landowner with poorly marked boundaries and vague harvesting contracts, and who failed to check a logger's references did not monitor the harvest.
Private consulting foresters and land surveyors are two professionals who can help the landowner avoid timber theft and a harvest disaster. In case of a timber theft, the owner is encouraged to contact NYS Attorney General's Office and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
To learn more about forestry issues, one is always encouraged to join NYFOA.
PO Box 541 Lima, NY 14485
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