Since 2014, the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) has made a significant impact on the way that timber security issues are investigated. Last year, the Georgia Forestry Association (GFA) in partnership with several public and private organizations last year spearheaded the passage of House Bill 790 to modernize statutes addressing timber theft and timber trespass.
GFC Chief of Law Enforcement Brian Clavier says the agency has not taken its new responsibility lightly. Since July of 2014, GFC has spent more than 2,600 hours investigating 154 complaints. Of those complaints, 12 charges have been filed as a result of GFC investigations and $123,129 has been recovered for landowners.
“The Georgia Forestry Commission, the state, and Georgia forest landowners are very serious about ensuring that all timber harvests comply with the law,” Clavier said. “We will vigorously pursue anyone who violates these laws.”
Before HB 790, many landowners whose timber had been taken without their permission were sometimes met with a less than satisfactory response from local law enforcement. Georgia followed the lead of surrounding states and assigned a dedicated agency to investigations of timber loss.
In addition, HB 790: increased the recovery available to victims from single to treble (or three-times) damages; gave landowners tools to shield themselves from liability when conducting timber harvests; required that mill scale tickets are returned to the seller within 20 days; and, established a four-year statute of limitations for filing complaints related to the unauthorized taking of timber.
“It is important for the economic and environmental sustainability of Georgia’s working forests that bad actors in the timber industry are caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” GFA President Andres Villegas said. “We applaud the work of the Georgia Forestry Commission in serving our landowners timber security concerns.”
Following the signing of HB 790, GFA reinstated its timber theft reward program to provide greater security to members concerned about protecting their timber assets. The Association’s timber theft reward program aims to increase awareness of the new law, while offering a $1,000 reward to individuals who offer information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals convicted in cases of timber theft or timber arson.
GFA encourages its members to participate in the program by purchasing signs to display on property boundaries. The signs are $14 each for aluminum and $8 each for plastic. For more information, contact Michele Dunham at 478-992-8110 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to GFC’s law enforcement division, landowners with complaints about actions affecting their timber should follow three specific steps:
- First, attempt to resolve the situation with all parties involved.
- If that fails or if the harvesting parties are unknown, landowners should record all known information including contracts, dates, names and contact information for other parties involved and anyone who has knowledge of the events.
- Once that information is obtained, the landowner should report the incident to the local Georgia Forestry Commission office.