As if Georgia’s woodland owners didn’t have enough to worry about – wildfires, pine beetles, low timber prices – now they can add one more to the list. Timber theft is nothing new and represents a very small percentage of the many thousands of timber transactions that take place in Georgia annually.
However, because the issue can be so devastating to a landowner, the state’s leading forest advocacy group has assembled a task force to study the issue and attack it on a number of fronts.
In addition to reviving a dormant timber theft reward program, the task force of the Georgia Forestry Association will soon launch a series of educational initiatives aimed at highlighting steps that landowners can take to prevent the theft of their trees.
The association also will pursue legislative remedies to the problem of timber theft when the General Assembly convenes in January, attempting to make penalties tougher and prosecution easier.
“Growing a tract of timber for 20 or 30 years and then having it taken from you without payment is not acceptable, and we’re committed to stopping it,” said GFA president Steve McWilliams. “Unfortunately there are a few bad actors that need to be removed from the supply chain.”
McWilliams notes that timber theft investigation and enforcement are not a high priority in Georgia. For example, the State Forestry Commission has no investigative authority in the area of timber theft like it does for arson.
Local sheriff offices, with their limited resources, are often not able to place as high a priority on timber theft as other crimes. However, the Georgia Sheriffs Association has also has formed a task force to work alongside the Georgia Forestry Association in an attempt to curb illegal activity.
The best way to prevent timber theft is to prevent it from happening in the first place. There are a number of steps that woodland owners can take to avoid becoming timber theft victims.
Property boundaries should be clearly marked so that they can be readily seen from adjacent properties. Timber sale boundaries should also be clearly marked. If a landowner is not familiar with a prospective contractor, he should obtain multiple references before engaging the company to conduct a timber harvest.
Finally, landowners who are new to timber sales should consider utilizing the services of a reputable professional forester to assist with the sale.
Absentee landowners who do not live on or near their property should provide adjacent landowners with their contact information and ask them to keep an eye on their woodlands.
It is helpful to inform adjacent landowners when a harvest is about to take place, or to let them know that a timber harvest is not anticipated on the property. “With a few common sense precautions, landowners can greatly increase the security of their timberland investment,” noted McWilliams.
The Georgia Forestry Association, formed in 1907, is the principal advocate for Georgia’s forests and the landowners and industries that rely on them. The organization is headquartered in Forsyth, GA.