Timber Theft Prevention

Don't be a victim

Every year, Indiana Conservation Officers investigate cases of timber theft in which unsuspecting landowners are victimized by individuals whose business practices are dishonest or downright illegal.

Too often, the victims don’t realize they’ve been had until it’s too late.

Landowners who have timber on their property possess one of the most useful and valuable resources Indiana has to offer.

But knowing what to do when deciding to sell that timber can be challenging.

“After 26 years working as an Indiana Conservation Officer, I have witnessed landowners who have lost money and resources because they had no knowledge of the actual value of their timber,” said Lt. William Browne of the DNR Division of Law Enforcement. “Pay attention to the trucks hauling logs on the roadway and realize they are loaded with several thousand dollars worth of timber.

“You would be protective of your IRA or checking account, so you also should be protective of your precious natural resources. Mature hardwoods, such as walnut, oak and cherry, are very valuable, and depending on how the logs are graded by the saw mill, each tree could be worth some major money.”

Here are seven steps landowners should take to protect their investment:

  1. Always get several bids.
    Most people never accept the first and only price when purchasing a vehicle or house. You shouldn’t when selling timber either. Have your trees marked. A forester can assist you in marking mature trees, or you can ask an interested timber buyer to mark the trees he is interested in taking. This will give you a standard to base all other bids on and give you a snapshot of what your property will look like after the harvest. Ask several timber buyers to give you a sealed bid on the marked timber. You will begin to understand the “real” value of your timber, which will help you make a good decision on a buyer.
  2. Do reference checks.
    Ask potential timber buyers for telephone numbers and names of people they have bought timber from in the past. Call those people and find out if they were satisfied with the timber buyer and if they were paid the agreed amount of money. If the timber buyer is reluctant to provide this information, look elsewhere.
  3. Know and understand the fine print before signing a contract.
    The devil is in the details. An attorney may be your best option to ensure you are protected and all details are addressed, such as clean-up of the tops, any erosion problems, trees left in waterways, access to the property, property line disputes, legal description of the trees to be harvested, sale price, payment method, liability coverage, crop damage, effective begin and end dates for harvest, restrictions, penalties for breach of contract, buyers rights, and sellers rights. Make sure you (the seller) and the buyer agree to all terms; then both should sign the agreement in front of a witness. Never make a verbal agreement.
  4. Know how much and when you will be paid.
    Some timber buyers may try to enter a contract that states they will pay you 60 percent and they will keep 40 percent of all timber sales. This is difficult to track. The timber buyer may use many different saw mills and only show you records from one or two saw mills. Timber buyers know how to grade logs and they should be able to quote you a price before they cut.
  5. Be a good neighbor.
    Notify adjoining landowners that you intend to sell timber from your property. Resolve any property line disputes prior to signing contracts with timber buyers. Sometimes trees wrongfully are cut from adjacent property owners and it becomes difficult for Conservation Officers to determine who is at fault – the selling landowner for wrongfully marking the property line or the timber cutter for crossing the line. If you have worked these details out with your neighbors, it makes these cases easier for officers to prove fault.
  6. Contact your local Indiana Conservation Officer.
    As if there have been complaints against or investigations of the timber buyer you are considering. Conservation Officers have restrictions on how much information they can share, but they can tell you if there have been court convictions involving wrongful activities of the timber buyer. Ultimately, it is the landowner’s responsibility to know who they are dealing with. To contact your local Conservation Officer, call DNR Law Enforcement’s central dispatch office at 1-812-837-9536.
  7. Do your homework and sell with confidence.
    Not all timber buyers are bad. Most are professionals who operate their businesses with integrity. After all your homework is done and all your bases are covered, your experience with the timber buyer should be profitable, pleasant and productive. These seven steps are intended to give you the wisdom to find those who do their business with professionalism and integrity and protect you from those who are in it for their own greed.