VICTIMS' GUIDE TO TIMBER THEFT - WHAT OTHER STATES DO
Over the last decade and a half, a number of states have been toughening their statutes against timber theft. Sometimes that means increasing penalties, but at other times it has meant establishing a professional unit to investigate and assist in prosecution of timber theft. Some examples are:
In the early nineties, South Carolina passed specific criminal laws on timber theft and assigned investigation to the State Forestry Service, not the local Sheriffs or State Police.
Around 2013, Georgia passed laws similar to South Carolina's. When asked why Georgia took that route, the head of the Georgia Task Force provided an anecdote by way of explanation. He said a Georgia logger who had been taking other people's timber with impunity for more than a decade decided to expand his entrepreneurship efforts into South Carolina. Within two years, he was a guest of the state of South Carolina.
New York in 1997 toughened their laws. The new law requires State Department of Environmental Conservation Officers to enforce trespass laws against timber thieves. Governor Pataki pointed out that timber theft not only results in significant property losses but also irreversible environmental damage. Article 155 of state penal law classifies the theft of any property with a value of greater than $1000 as grand larceny, a felony, and punishable as such. That appreciation for the value of timber caused the state to specify that a victim is entitled to the value of his tree or $250, or both. New York also has felony criminal mischief laws that can be brought to bear on timber theft. In 2004, one thief got up to 3.5 years in prison and a fine of $5600 for stealing from state land. His accomplice, who helped him load the logs, got 3 months and 4.75 addition years of probation.
In 1997, Texas toughened its laws, making theft of more than $500 in property a felony.
In 2016, Vermont passed new laws to make prosecution of timber theft feasible. Very high automatic penalties are part of those new laws.
In Virginia, timber thieves can be prosecuted criminally as they can theoretically be in Kentucky, but, as in Kentucky, that rarely happens. If a victim can by some luck get a criminal prosecution going, then timber theft of over $200 in Virginia is a felony and the penalty is up to 20 years, restitution, and a fine up to $2500.
Washington State has prosecuted a number of timber thefts criminally. In one jurisdiction, Deputy District Attorney Jason Richards sent at least a dozen people to jail for timber theft, including one man for 7.5 years.
In 1993, Mississippi established an Agriculture Theft Bureau that investigates timber theft. They have investigated a number of cases and made a number of arrests
Louisiana’s Forestry commission investigates timber theft. In 1998, they completed investigations on 144 cases with losses estimated at $555,000.
The Texas Forest Service investigates timber theft. In early 1999 they had 53 investigations going and had gotten 4 convictions in the first half of the year.
In 2001, Arkansas passed Statute 15-32-601 giving their Forestry Commission the authority to investigate timber theft. It supplements the general felony theft statute with provisions specific to timber. Under the new law, the thieves can also get felony prison time.
In Alabama, one logger got three years in prison and a $154,000 fine for timber theft.
In 1998, the FBI helped conduct an investigation that spanned four states - Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
To take specific instances, Indiana, Georgia, and South Carolina have established investigative units inside their state Department/Division of Forestry. That offers the benefit of assuring that the people investigating timber theft have specialized training which most Sheriffs' offices and Police units lackj They know the territory – who the loggers, buyers, and sellers of timber are, what the value of timber is, the wisdom of taking a thin slice of a stump to match to a log bought by a sawmill, how to use DNA for matching stumps and logs, what evidence to gather, etc. Some of them issue news releases when they make arrests for timber theft, which have the secondary effect of making sawmills wary of buying from people whose names show up several times in such news releases. These units can also put out educational materials telling people what to do and who to call if their timber is missing. The roughly-two-dozen South Carolina Forestry investigators apparently deal with about 200 cases a year, but an official stated that one measure of their success is that the average value of the thefts has steadily declined since they set up the special unit.