The morning session will include presentations about selling timber, timber markets and landowner liability. The afternoon session will include a field trip to several farms owned by Waltz Maynor near Purnell Swett High School. Here you will see the results of what can be done by participating in various conservation cost-share programs and the advantages of good forest management.
We started planning for this meeting this past summer. We gathered information from various sources to determine the most important issues for landowners, so we could arrange for appropriate speakers. One common topic that seemed to be of major importance to almost everyone was timber theft. Although the speakers for this meeting will not address this topic specifically, each of them has been asked to include remarks related to this issue.
From reports and newsletters I receive, it is obvious that timber theft is a major problem throughout the Southeast. I know it is a problem here in Robeson County, and I suspect it is just as much a problem in other areas of the United States — especially those areas that have large amounts of publicly owned forestlands.
Although timber theft is a major problem, many cases are never reported. Many times, property owners do not even realize their timber has been stolen.
There are two very distinct types of timber theft. When legitimate timber harvest is being conducted on one farm, it is not uncommon for logging crews to intentionally or by accident cross over property boundaries and harvest trees from the adjacent property. When this happens in North Carolina, those guilty of this crime must pay triple damages to the landowner. In other words, they must pay the landowner three times what the timber was worth.
Another example is when logging crews trespass and cut timber without receiving permission from the landowner. This often happens with secluded properties and properties of absentee landowners. The thief can gain the knowledge he needs about the landowner from conversations with others in the community and from property records at the courthouse. Illegal timber harvest activities are usually not questioned by neighbors or others passing through the area. It is not unusual at all to see logging crews harvesting timber in all areas of the county.
Since many landowners fail to manage their forestlands properly and seldom visit their woodlands, this type of theft is often never noticed until years later. By that time, it is difficult to determine who might have actually harvested the timber or where they might be located. Successful prosecutions and recovery by the owner are very rare.
The type of timber theft that is most disturbing is when a landowner is deceived by a timber buyer and is paid far less than what the timber is actually worth. This type of theft is least reported, because many times the owner has no idea he or she has been taken advantage of. They did not know what their timber was worth, and they did not know how to seek assistance before selling to make sure they were receiving a fair market price.
If a property owner becomes aware that they have sold timber for much less than it is worth, many times they are ashamed to admit their mistake. Even if they do admit it, the sale is legal and they have no recourse.
The frustrating thing about this type of timber theft is that it actually is not illegal. It is just lowdown, underhanded and unethical. A timber buyer takes advantage of uninformed and misinformed landowners.
Of all the bad stories I hear every year, the most disturbing are the ones from landowners who sell 30 acres of timber for $3,000. They share that someone stopped by the house and told them there was a severe pine beetle infestation in their trees and if they did not harvest right now, all the trees would be lost. This buyer just happened to be working in the area and would do the landowner a favor by buying his damaged trees.
Although I work with landowners daily, have constant contact with timber professionals, and organize forestry educational meetings, if I were a landowner, there is no way I would attempt to sell my own timber. I don’t know how to determine what is in the woods, what it is worth, or who is buying what. Even with my experience, it would be very easy for someone to take advantage of me. I would hire a consulting forester to help.
If you ever find yourself in the situation where you have an opportunity to sell timber, please at least talk first to someone from the North Carolina Forest Service or a consulting forester. Many landowners seem reluctant to hire a consulting forester to help them sell their timber, but when they get ready to sell their house, they turn it over to a realtor. They are afraid the consulting forester will cost them money. In most cases, the consulting forester will make you more money than they will cost.
Don’t let someone take advantage of you. I’ll see you in the forest.
— Everett Davis is the county extension director.