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ArkLaTex In-Depth: Timber Theft - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

ArkLaTex In-Depth: Timber Theft

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HARRISON COUNTY, Tx. -

A load of pine pulp wood heads out of a hidden East Texas timber site headed for International Paper in Mansfield. It's just one truck out of the roughly 150 headed off this land in the two and a half weeks Jim and Jeremy Long are working it.

The Longs keep track of trucks with their own reporting system, but some authorities say too often unscrupulous timber agencies purposefully work around the paper trail.

"Timber owners -- especially when they're absentee landlords -- need to be very careful who they hire and also follow up to make sure that everything is proper," says Commissioner Mike Strain, Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry.

Strain says the department has five timber theft investigators and makes one or two arrests each month. In 2012, the department investigated 150 timber thefts valued at $1 million. Investigators made 30 arrests. 

Strain estimates the most common strategy for timber theft is when a timber company purposefully low-balls the value of a job only to turn around and make a huge profit at the mills. 

Consultants like Sam Crawford are hired to make sure that doesn't happen.

"When landowners use foresters, they get the most value out of their timber and the main reason is because we really understand the business and most landowners don't," Crawford says.

Crawford uses hidden cameras to count truckloads and specific pre-numbered log books to keep everyone honest.

He says in this industry -- worth $2.8 billion a year to the state economy -- timber authorities estimate about 80% or more of businesses are reputable. Another 19% will sometimes take advantage of a situation, but it's the last 1% landowners need to watch out for.

"The evil guy watches the courthouse, and he knows that grandma has just died," Crawford says of crooks. "He knows that nobody's watching the farm so he goes out there, cuts all the trees, and just leaves."

Strain says Crawford is explaining the second most common type of timber theft: simply taking trees that don't belong to you. Strain and Crawford admit sometimes it does happen as an honest mistake.

Crawford says the industry has changed a lot in the past five years when demand in the homebuilding industry plummeted. Some business owners will take advantage of a naive property owner to make up for diminishing profits.

Strain says it's rare his investigators come across an outright scam, but it happens.

Strain says that's what happened with the case against David Lubas, 61.

Related article: Caddo Parish man arrested in connection with timber theft

Lubas was arrested Oct. 8- the fourth time in less than three months- on timber theft. Strain says the Greenwood resident was working as a consultant forester when investigators say he told a Claiborne Parish absentee landowner than he got a high bid of $28,000 for her property.

Instead, investigators say he sold the wood for more than twice that amount: almost $66,000 with a 12% commission.

Authorities say there are a few ways landowners can minimize the likelihood of timber theft.

"It's like buying a car, you make a couple of different dealers to get the best fit for your property," Jim Long says.

He adds it's best to check on a company before you sign with them, ask for references and if you'd like the Longs will invite you to watch the process yourself.

"Of course, we have no problem with that," son Jeremy Long says of landowners who prefer to personally check in on a job. "We have nothing to hide, and so long as they can put up with the heat, and everything going on, more power to 'em."

Authorities also suggest occasionally checking a property. If you don't live by the land, hire a consultant, ask neighbors to watch it for you or issue hunting permits to responsible sportsman who will regularly scope out the acreage.

Helpful resources:

NORTHWEST LOUISIANA 

LSU Ag Center

Benton, La.: Ricky Kilpatrick 

318-965-2326

rkilpatrick@agcenter.lsu.edu

 

EAST TEXAS

Texas A&M Forest Service

Linden, Texas: Jarred Lemmon

936-689-0905

Gilmer, Texas: Ken Downs

903-235-9721

 

SOUTHWEST ARKANSAS

Arkansas Forestry Commission

Fouke, Ark.: Doug Cherry

Douglas.cherry@arkansas.gov

870-653-6747


 


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