What Is [a Poached] Old-Growth Tree Actually Worth?

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.”

4 thoughts on “What Is [a Poached] Old-Growth Tree Actually Worth?”

  1. If sales are marked trees, USFS using tracer paint to mark “take” trees, maybe some are “poached.” Clear cuts and load tagging and identification surely has enough USFS police Checking tickets at weigh stations and mill log dumps.

    IF this is an issue of “lump sum” timber sales and more wood scaled than was “offered lump sum”, do take a look at USFS cruiser competency. If the sale volumes are from satellite “cruising,” tough poo. I never, ever bought a lump sum sale that I did not cruise and BLM only sold lump sum. BLM cruises were all over the place. No experience, as I was out of business when my mill was shuttered with Clinton NW Forest Plan outcomes, with later USFS selling by weight, BINGO cards and all that. A present USFS lump sum sale is the brown paper bag with a $5 price tag on it at the grocery store, sealed, and a tag that says what is likely in it. Caveat Emptor.

    In a word, having some crayon eating bean counter report poaching of ten percent of all trees taken for Federal Forests is BS and just more of the same ENGO “Russia Gate” misinformation for political posturing and gain. Who in the hell risks millions invested to log and manufacture lumber based on theft? Oh, I get it. The US Government. Like one man said in my youth: “If you knowingly buy anything stolen, you are condoning stealing and your employees will steal from you.” Which does explain the problems with the FBI, the “Justice Department” today. High ranking officials condoning illegal activities now have wholesale illegality issues. Worse, can you imagine, the present state of veracity being questioned all day, every day, and the political majority denies any inquiry? For that reason ALONE, the ten percent poached timber idea is bulls-t. Political prancing ponies ginning up discord. And who is joined at the hip to the prevaricators? ENGOs. Always in search of tax forgiven donations to find fault with for-profit America. Sell your straw man to someone for burning on the Black Desert.

  2. Well, I was going to respond, but “JT” done such a good job, I just smoked a quick cig and took a shot of bourbon!

    Right on! The only couple things I might add is: 1. In many sections of the country the mills can no longer handle “large” old growth, nor can the woods operators using processors. 2. Many areas of the country trying to do something, anything (4-FRI), we are paying industry to log! Why would someone steal anything that cost them more than leaving it alone? Sort of like breaking into a hardware store to steal a shovel?

    And lastly; scaled sales (and I used to be a scaler) makes it hard to steal, unless ya got a “folk” on the inside. Log scale, weight scale, frequency scale, don’t matter…..

  3. Most of the “poached” wood I have seen in my 35+ year career was not associated with timber sales. A lot of it is high value wood for music instruments. In other cases it is high value trees taken for firewood or woodworking. Pacific yew was heavily poached when it was the only source of taxol for cancer treatment. I have worked mostly in Oregon. Yes, there was some timber theft early in my career (before lump sum sales) where the scaling bureau was being paid off by the timber purchasers and there were some FS employees mixed up in that as well. The advent of personal computers and spreadsheets helped identify patterns in cruised volume vs. scaled volume that led to an investigation that uncovered the scam and led to successful prosecutions.


Leave a Comment