Earlier this year, authorities followed a pickup truck to a warehouse in Philomath, OR, and seized more than 13,000 pounds of salal, a leafy Northwest plant prized for its shelf life in floral arrangements. It is shipped to the East Coast and even to Europe, and the black-market operation was an example of the wealth that thieves take from public forests, law enforcement officers said to Associated Press Wednesday.
Damage to old-growth redwoods through a practice known as “burl poaching” is apparently impacting groves of the world’s tallest trees in northern California and southwest Oregon.
Burl Theft, Land Management Update
Burl poaching, which involves cutting off knotty growths key to the tree’s ability to reproduce and protect itself from disease, has become a serious problem in northern California’s Redwood National and State Park system.
The burls appear at the base of redwood trees, where they send out sprouts. Their intricate grain is prized for furniture and decorations.
Timber Deputy Brandon Fountain of the Linn County sheriff’s office said to Herald and News Tuesday he stopped a suspect a few weeks ago with 600 pounds of moss in his pickup. Forest deputies such as Fountain and a counterpart in Benton County, Brent Iverson, aren’t alone in the woods. They’re in contact with federal land managers and timber company workers.
They say people who want to harvest forest products should generally call the US Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, or Oregon Department of Forestry for information on permits. Some timber companies also will issue permits.
Iverson stressed that not everyone harvesting forest products is a crook.
The poaching has been a problem in Northern California’s Redwood National and State Parks for years. Two men recently were convicted in a case there after rangers tracked slabs cut from a tree by chain saw to a redwood burl shop.
Similar poaching was found at Winchuck River on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest near Brookings, OR, in a stand that represents the northernmost reach of coast redwoods.
The US Forest Service is investigating.
“We take damage to natural resources on national forest system lands very seriously and are investigating the theft of the burls,” regional spokesperson Tom Knappenberger said in an email to AP. “This potentially is a felony violation.”
A redwood tree can survive a burl being cut off, but the legacy of an organism that could be 1,000 years old is threatened, because the burl is where it sprouts a clone before dying. Sprouting from burls is the prevalent method of redwood propagation.
Eventually, that illegally harvested product was to make its way to a national retailer for sale at $9 for less than a pound.
“Think of the market value of that,” Fountain said.
Still in Oregon, some changes to forest management are being announced as the state struggles to replace former timber revenues without raising taxes.
In early June, Oregon public land officials were considering selling the 93,000-acre Elliot State Forest. Management of the forest previously generated important funds for public schools, but environmental restrictions have strangled logging activities, resulting in the state losing money managing the forest, wrote Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, in Heartlander Magazine June 11.
Last year the Oregon Land Board lost US$3 million managing the forest. In previous years, the 146-square mile Elliott State Forest regularly produced between US$6 million and US$8 million in revenues.
With the Elliott Forest no longer able to produce assets to help fund the state’s public schools, officials are scrambling to find ways of meeting their fiduciary obligations. The State Land Board, which is composed of the governor, the state treasurer, and the secretary of state, decided last December to sell five parcels, totalling approximately 2,700 acres of the forest, to get a better idea of the value of the land in light of the restrictions on logging in the forest.
The Oregon Department of State Lands completed the controversial sale of three parcels of Elliott State Forest totalling 1,453 acres to Seneca Jones Timber and Scott Timber Wednesday, according to the Statesman Journal. The Wednesday sale fetched US$4.2 million despite the promise from environmental groups to file a lawsuit to halt logging over the alleged existence of federally protected marbled murrelets in the parcels.
The sale, which will benefit the Common School Fund, represents less than two per cent of the 93,000-acre forest near Reedsport, OR.
The East Hakki Ridge parcel was purchased by Seneca Jones Timber for US$1.89 million, while Adams Ridge 1 was purchased by Scott Timber for US$1.87 million. Benson Ridge was purchased for US$787,000.
“It is well known that nothing really changes in government policy without a crisis. When the Oregon Land Board manages to lose US$3 million on a US$500 million asset in the same year that the S&P 500 index returned 32 per cent, that becomes a political crisis,” said John Charles, president and CEO of the Cascade Policy Center also in Heartlander.
As well, the state agency responsible for governing Oregon’s local land-use plans has come up with a new plan for itself, said the Register-Guard Wednesday.
The Department of Land Conservation and Development has two missions: to conserve farm and forestland, and to develop land for houses and jobs.
State law requires local governments to continually ensure they have sufficient land for houses and jobs.
The DLCD’s draft strategic plan starts with a goal to work with state agriculture and forestry experts to “ensure a sustainable land supply for Oregon’s agricultural and forest industries.”