The subtitle of this Undark article is “In setting fines for timber poaching, experts are looking at different ways to calculate the financial value of trees.” It’s by Lyndsie Bourgon, author of Tree Thieves: Crime and Survival in North America’s Woods.
At last estimate, the Forest Service reported that 1 in 10 trees logged on their land is poached. The financial impact can be hard to pin down, but some sources estimate poaching amounts to up to $100 million per year, contributing to a broader $1 billion annual valuation of all timber poaching in the United States.
In British Columbia, natural resource officers who patrol provincial forest lands have started to argue for steeper penalties that take ecological value, wildlife corridors, recreational use, and aesthetic beauty into consideration. It’s in those issues that the gravity of poaching is most felt, one officer told me, not simply the loss of a marketable resource.
Across the border, in Washington, similar arguments have been made in large timber poaching cases. In a 2012 case of tree theft, a man pled guilty to poaching bigleaf maple, Western red cedar trees, and Douglas fir, at least one of which was 300 years old, from Olympic National Forest. The market value of the wood was estimated to be between $59,510 and $118,660. But when it came time for sentencing and restitution, federal attorneys argued that the ecological value of timber should also contribute to the overall fine.
The prosecution used something called an “ecological valuation” — a method factors in considerations like the tree’s value as habitat for endangered birds, as well as a single old-growth’s influence on forest health. “Because the Forest Service is charged with stewarding the forests for the public benefit (and not simply with marketing timber), consideration of ecological factors is necessary,” the restitution memo said. Notably, it also stated: “Courts have recognized that a restitution order should reflect the value of stolen property from the victim’s perspective. Market value does not adequately reflect this value.”