VICTIMS' GUIDE TO TIMBER THEFT - PROPERTY RIGHTS
Victims may pay taxes on their land, but have less say than the logger about what happens on it, as some victims have learned.
Most victims believe that if they find somebody on their land logging, they can hold their equipment. And that may be. But that’s not what law enforcement is telling a lot of timber theft victims. A victim who found a logging truck on his land asked law enforcement if he could impound the truck. He was told that the law didn’t allow that, and if he wanted to hold the equipment, he needed to file a civil suit and get a court order. Setting aside the cost of having to file a civil suit when his timber was being taken right under his nose, the victim figured that by the time he could get all that done, his land would have been stripped. He then asked if he could at least let the air out of the tires so that it would be harder for the logger to drive the truck off with a load of his timber. The reply was that that would be a criminal act. So there is apparently no way that the logger can be impeded, but the victim had better watch his p’s and q’s if he doesn’t want to end up in court.
Another set of victims found an operating logyard on their land, for which the logger could not produce permission. The logger was three times asked to vacate the land, and he refused. He claimed he had a contract to be on the land and promised several times to produce it, but never did. Law enforcement said they could not act. The logger went on working until he decided he was through. When the owners of the land hired an expert to check their land, they found that 450 very valuable hardwoods were missing.
The nephew of a third set of victims, an elderly couple, found a logger on his relative’s land. When he informed the logger he was on the wrong land, the logger left but left his bulldozer behind. The logger was apparently not satisfied to just come back with a flatbed truck and get his bulldozer, but evidently used the presence of the bulldozer as an opportunity to threaten the victims. He allegedly went to the Sheriff and asked the Sheriff to get his bulldozer. When the Sheriff declined to get involved, the logger supposedly told the Sheriff that he was planning to go to the County Attorney and charge the victims with holding his bulldozer unlawfully, and also threatened to file a civil suit asking for lost income for every day the bulldozer sat on the victims’ land. The Sheriff passed this on to the victims. Under that kind of threat, the victims were at a standstill. They certainly hadn’t driven the bulldozer onto their land, but were being held responsible for its being there. If victims were allowed to hold logging equipment found on their land without permission, as it certainly seems they should be allowed to do, then the value of the bulldozer potentially could offset some of a victim’s loss. But victims can’t.
It is no wonder that, when victims meet problems like this, they begin to talk about vigilante justice. A lot of people have commented that, if logging theft is allowed to go on unchecked as it does now, someone is going to get killed.
And, in fact, somebody has been killed over logging theft – several somebodies. In Perry County, Kentucky a few years ago, there was a shootout between alleged logging thieves and their alleged victims. It resulted in the deaths of two people and injury to a third. So far as can be determined, nothing has yet been done on the logging theft question.
All of this has caused people to ask: Who owns my land anyway? If people can come on my land without permission, take logs without permission, stay when asked to leave, and threaten to sue because they brought their bulldozer onto my land without permission, then what’s left for me to control? How did we end up with a system where the owner holds the deed and pays the taxes, but the logging thief calls the shots?