Stealing timber from a landowner is not like stealing a car. It could take 20-plus years for fully grown trees to be replaced.
But prior to a Georgia law that went into effect July 1, owners of timberland had little recourse if trees were intentionally or — more likely — unintentionally cut from the wrong property, said Matt Hestad, communications coordinator with the Georgia Forestry Association.
Also, cases in which loggers or others in the timber industry took advantage of unsuspecting landowners often were not fully investigated or prosecuted.
“Of course, stealing timber was a crime, but one of the huge problems we saw was that our landowners had nowhere to go in case of timber theft,” Hestad said.
Local county sheriff’s deputies would be called, but often they had more serious crimes to handle — sometimes with limited resources and officers — and “timber theft investigations came in at the bottom of the list,” Hestad said.
But the Timber Security Law gives the Georgia Forestry Commission more investigative and arresting power in cases of unauthorized timber harvest, much like its authority in cases of timber arson. The commission’s officer will continue to work with local law enforcement.
“(Forestry officers) know where the mills are located. They have a one-on-one connection with timber landowners (and) the loggers,” Hestad said. “They are involved with the community, and … if timber gets stolen, they know what could have happened … and they are well-equipped to deal with it. We wanted them to have the authority to investigate and make arrests.”
It’s hard to say yet what impact the new law will have, said Brian Clavier, associate chief of forest protection and chief of law enforcement for the Georgia Forestry Commission.