The Georgia House of Representatives approved House Bill 790 on a 169-2 vote yesterday. This marks the first step to provide better recourse and recovery for owners of timberland in Georgia who are victims of timber theft and timber trespass. The bill currently awaits action in the Senate.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Williams, R-Watkinsville, is aimed at improving the resources available to timberland owners who are the victims of timber theft. The centerpiece of the bill would give the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) law enforcement authority in incidents of timber theft that it currently has in cases of timber arson.
“Timber theft is not an epidemic in this state,” GFA President Steve McWilliams said. “However, you cannot replace trees that have been growing for 20 to 30 years overnight. This bill helps Georgia’s landowners by giving them an opportunity to recover, not only the cost of the timber, but the long term investment lost when trees are stolen.”
The bill includes several other provisions to discourage timber theft and to protect landowners in cases of timber theft or trespass by:
- Increasing damages for unintentional trespass that result in the unauthorized cutting of timber from the current “one times the value” of the timber to three (treble) times the value.
- Allowing punitive damages for landowners in addition to treble damages for trees taken in cases of intentional trespass.
- Requiring that scale tickets on unit sales be returned to original seller within 20 days. Failure to provide tickets within the required time limit would be a misdemeanor.
- Establishing the statute of limitations for civil actions related to unauthorized timber cutting at four years.
- Providing landowners some relief from liability in civil cases involving timber trespass by allowing – though not requiring – adjacent landowners to sign a good faith agreement indicating the location of the property lines. A copy of the signed agreement would then be given to the third party timber harvester.
This legislation is the result of hearings held last year by the House Study Committee on Timber Security appointed by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, following the passage of House Resolution 644 in 2013.
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About the Georgia Forestry Association (GFA):
GFA exists to conserve and protect Georgia’s private woodlands and forest product industries. GFA acts as the “voice of forestry” working to educate business, environmental and political leaders about Georgia’s responsible forest management practices, benefits derived from forestry, and landowner rights. GFA is headquartered in Forsyth, Ga.