A CASE OF TIMBER THEFT IN KENTUCKY

Editor note to timber theft article

Editor’s note:  The following article is submitted by KWOA member Ed Sheehan. Although the owners do not live on the property in western Kentucky where the timber theft occurred, they had a boundary survey on file and immediately gathered extensive documentation regarding the theft that expedited prosecution of the thief. However, an unexpected action on the defendant’s part may have extended the prosecution for quite some time. Updates on this situation will be added as they become available.

Further information on Timber Theft and Trespass is available from the Kentucky Division of Forestry:

http://forestry.ky.gov/LandownerServices/Pages/TimberTheftandTrespass.aspx

And the UK Forestry Extension:  http://forestry.ca.uky.edu/trespass_theft

 

My wife and I have owned 20+ acres in Kentucky since 2010. The property was surveyed in 2010 and was only partially fenced.  In January, 2018 we found a freshly cut area on the back side of the property.  Someone had stolen multiple trees and damaged several more.  The damage trail led all the way to a neighbor’s property and we could see a logging truck loaded with fresh timber.  Aha, caught red-handed!

I immediately contacted the Kentucky Division of Forestry who informed me they could not help me and suggested I call the county sheriff. I called the county sheriff and he told me to call the police department, which I did. The police officer informed me that it was a civil matter and I would have to hire lawyer.  So, no one would come out to file a report!

I then contacted two lawyers. The first lawyer said he was too busy and gave me the name of another lawyer.

I was determined to fight for my property and this is the process I followed.

In February 2018 I hired a surveyor, at a cost of $1,100.00, to survey the unfenced area of my property and stake it for fencing.

In March 2018 I hired a forestry consultant for an estimate of damages.  I was also given a restitution estimate of $10,332.00 and $450.00 for erosion control cost. The cost for the estimate, documentation and photos was $250.00.

I contacted the second lawyer and was told he charged 1/3 of the settlement and 1/3 of $10,332.00 was not worth his time.  So, I wasn’t getting any help anywhere!

When I compiled all my information concerning the timber theft, I visited the county attorney’s office and completed a COMPLAINT INFORMATION FORM. I presented the completed form and my folder of documentation to the county attorney. I was informed that they did not have much luck in winning these cases. So, it looked like another turn down!

Then she looked at my documentation.  I believe my thorough file (containing the property survey, loss and damage estimates, and photos of tree stumps, damaged trees, and trails of the loggers) helped to change her mind rather quickly as it only took about 15 to 20 minutes for them to decide to take action.

I was informed that the penalty of three times the value of the timber could not be applied in this situation or any damages to property because that would require a civil suit.  I was just relieved that the prosecutor was going to prosecute the thief and bring attention to the situation.  We were on our way!

When we went to court in June 2018, I was surprised to be informed before the hearing began that the defendant had agreed to reimburse me $3,000.00 (this was the cost of the stolen trees per the forestry consultant) per an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor.  The defendant agreed to this in order to keep from being charged with a felony and the money would be paid in three monthly payments. After to agreeing to the settlement, the Defendant paid $1,000.00 to me and then changed his mind and decided not to pay the remaining $2,000.00.  He has been indicted by the county prosecutor and we are awaiting a court date.

Things must change.

Timber theft is a big problem in Kentucky and counties do not have the resources to investigate these thefts.  I believe we landowners need a process to follow and I have some suggestions.

  • The police should be required to come out and complete a written report to the land owner. The officer does not need to know the value of the timber or be certain of the boundary lines. The report only needs to list the number of trees or the approximate acreage involved. This is to be included in the folder of documentation.
  • The landowner can then contact a surveyor to confirm the boundary lines if the landowner needs an updated survey. The original or updated survey is to be included in the folder of documentation.
  • The land owner could then hire a forestry consultant for an estimate of the stolen and damaged trees along with any damages to the property which will require seeding. This is to be included in the folder of documentation.
  • Take photos of tree stumps, damaged trees, trails of the loggers and anything else that applies. This is to be included in the folder of documentation.
  • All documentation can then be turned over to the county prosecutor for necessary action.

I believe the most important part of this process is the police report. The police report states that a crime (theft and property damage) has occurred. This report should be added to state statistics concerning timber theft. This gives a more accurate representation of timber thefts occurring in the state. Without statistics, it is not recognized as a problem and no action will be taken. The landowner needs to work with the police department because this documentation is necessary when contacting the prosecutor.

Timber thieves must be held accountable and doing so will help to reduce the temptation of stealing others property. Landowners really need to work with county prosecutors to lessen timber thefts and reduce the financial burdens they must endure.