Timber Theft: Little Noticed; Serious Illegal Drain of Forests

By Chuck Ray | Posted: 11/09/2013 5:55PM


Chuck Ray, PennState, Associate Professor of Wood Operations Timber theft goes on wherever forests stand. We like to think that it is a phenomenon that occurs only in the wilder, more remote backwoods of the world. But in fact, I've had several folks relate to me about illegal logging activity off their land right here in the United States.

The video (posted below) by the University of British Columbia School of Journalism -  Pirating Russia's Hardwoods -  is an eye-opening report by the Wall Street Journal on timber theft in far east Russia. It gives one a sense of how serious this issue can be when you're down at boot level. I witnessed the same feeling several years ago as a forest marshall in Bulgaria described to me his frequent shoot-outs with timber pirates in that country. 

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The investigator in the video makes a good point...that once timber is sawn, it is nearly impossible to tell legal from illegal timber. Thus, the secrecy you see in the video at mills "operating on the edge." And there is another good point made...that permits to access stands specifically for small-diameter harvesting or thinning can be used to gain access to the more valuable fully-grown trees.

The story opens with a Russian landowner telling of his struggle to protect his linden trees from timber pirates. The linden trees referred to are of the genus Tilia; cousins of our own Tilia americana, or American basswood. The flowers of most Tilia species are productive havens for honeybees, and the nectar the bees collect from the trees is especially favored by bee-keepers for its light and subtly-rich flavor.

A hidden cost of timber theft; no trees, no bees.

One could question the opening line of the video that begins, "The last forests of the world...", when we know that much of the world's land mass is still heavily forested...in fact, growing at an astounding rate in many parts of the world. Hyperbole in unnecessary in telling this story. Last forest or not, the situation should be remedied, not only for the benefit of the legal owners of the timber, but for the improvement of legal timber market economics.


About the Author

Chuck Ray, PennState, Associate Professor of Wood Operations

Chuck Ray

Dr. Charles D. “Chuck” Ray is Associate Professor of Wood Operations Research at Pennsylvania State University. His specialty is in the area of operations research, specifically those operational issues that confront the majority of the wood products sector. He previously spent 15 years in research and quality management for two large building products corporations, Temple-Inland Forest Products and Louisiana-Pacific. Ray is the sixth generation of his family to work in the sawmill industry, the Ray Brothers Lumber Company, established in East Texas before the turn of the last century. He can be reached at cdrpsu@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @ChuckDRay. He maintains an Extension website for Penn State at http://extension.psu.edu/woodpro and also writes a blog on all wood issues called Go Wood which can be found at http://gowood.blogspot.com.

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A.M. Stover    
bronx, ny  |  November, 12, 2013 at 08:39 AM

Thanks for that CR. Makes the recent news about the Chinese Plywood Anti-Dumping ruling more complex. Love your work, please keep it up.

NorthWest PA  |  November, 12, 2013 at 09:03 PM

Lumber thieves come in all types of scum.. In our case the logger paid for logs 18 inches chest high. He waited until my parents went south for the winter and came in and took about everything. I must have HUGE feet. I could cover the stump with my boot! 20 years later and there is still not a tree large enough to be harvested for lumber. The S O B took our future oak, maple, cherry lumber for firewood.


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