VICTIMS' GUIDE TO TIMBER THEFT - INCENTIVIZING THE THIEF
Bottom Line: Victims, for reasons of absence, ill health, etc, can’t watch their timber all the time (nor do we want a nation where it is assumed that it is the victim’s responsibility if a crime occurs). Loggers rarely notify landowners whose land abuts their logging areas to enable the owners to guard their land against “straying” by a logger. Loggers have many options for getting in and out of a victim’s land without being caught. If caught, loggers can claim such “straying” was accidental. Law enforcement will rarely take action. Even in cases where law enforcement personnel do not immediately rule out action, they demand expensive surveys of the victim, not the people involved in taking the timber, and the victims can rarely afford that, nor the other “entry fees” levied on them. Even if a rare Sheriff will open a case, a prosecutor may decline to prosecute. Even if a victim can find an attorney to take his case, civil suits are prohibitively expensive. Cases drag on until the victims runs out of money, develop drastic health problems, or die, or until witnesses die. Too many people will not provide information to a victim, and many of those that do will not testify. For a victim, going through a court case has been characterized as the equivalent of going through chemotherapy, the stress is so extreme. A victim’s losses are undercounted for legal purposes, often being limited to actions that may harm water quality. Add to that a situation in which a logger essentially is allowed to deduct the expenses of stealing a victim’s timber from any counted compensation, and it's easy to see that the logger rarely has to worry about potentially facing payment of full compensation. Even if the losses are fully allowed, and the logger admits to or is convicted of the theft, compensation is not likely to cover the losses and expenses and the logger is not likely to face any jail time. Under those circumstances, it is no wonder that timber theft is attractive. The incentive system virtually guarantees timber theft.
One of the interesting facets of logging in Kentucky is that the Commonwealth maintains a list of loggers that is called a ”Bad Actor” list. The irony of the situation is that a logger can get on the “Bad Actor” list for failing to meet clean water standards (not sowing grass on a bulldozer road, for instance), but that same logger could steal tens of thousands of dollars of timber year after year, and never be put on the bad actor list, for the simple reason that the Commonwealth apparently feels more obligation to keep silt out of the water than it does to protect victims of timber theft.