1/6/2017 4:32:00 PM Local timber theft lesson: Forest management vital Benefits include timber harvesting, tourism, wildlife preservation
In light of the threat of timber thefts, Vinton County Forester Cody Hacker (pictured) says there are several ways landowners can protect and manage their property. (Telegram Photo By Red Thompson, Jr.)
Protecting the forest is important to Vinton County and other rural locales in the region for both economic and environmental reasons.
Sound forest management is important and can have a direct effect on a variety of topics, including: tourism, outdoor recreation, wildlife, woodland health, soil degradation and the economy. The need to balance all these issues was discussed by Cody Hacker, a forester with the Vinton Soil and Water Conservation District office in a recent interview with The Telegram.
These issues were in the public spotlight recently when the Vinton County Prosecuting Attorney's Office and the Ohio Attorney General's Office worked together and convicted Vinton County resident Mark Betts on charges involving the illegal harvest and resale of timber which he did not own or have authority to harvest or sell. Prosecutors were able to prove he stole millions of timber from an elderly absentee Vinton County landowner who resided in Grove City near Columbus. The court fined Betts over $2 million and he was sentenced to four years in prison.
Hacker assured a vast majority of timber harvester/buyers in the area operate honest businesses, but there are some bad actors that can give the entire industry a bad name. Often these are the ones that receive publicity. Timber harvested in Vinton County is not only sawn locally but the logs and wood are exported all over the world.
"The Appalachian Hardwood name is world-famous and a good marketing tool for us," said Hacker. He added if there is an infraction, the local and state authorities have just proven with the Betts case they will punish people who steal timber.
Fallout, Lessons From Betts Case
Hacker stated the Betts case did bring media attention to the timber-theft issue, but it also demonstrated the importance of the forest and how it has many benefits for the community.
"The Betts case did get a lot of media attention," Hacker stated "The coverage may have opened some eyes to an issue that not many had given thought to before. In this case, the theft of the trees was similar to that of burglarizing a vacant home. In both cases the individual enters the property without permission and removes products they have no right to."
Another important point, Hacker noted, is that landowners have options regarding the timber on their properties. In his role as forester, Hacker wanted to share several ways people can protect their land -- ranging from high-tech to low-tech options.
One of the high-tech options is using the popular Google Earth Program (www.google/earth). While Hacker says the program is not foolproof, it does update quite often and the landowner can usually tell if trees are being removed from their property. This case specifically took place over multiple years so the aerial imagery would have shown the forest canopy being disturbed.
There also are a couple of low-tech options that can be quite effective, which would result in very little cost to the landowner.
"One effective way to mark your property is by setting up borders by painting trees," Hacker stated. He says this visibly defines who owns what and should certainly cut down on potential timber thefts. The landowner can put up signage on his/her property as well. Yet another preventive measure is to count on the vigilance of neighbors.
"If an owner knows he or she is not going to be on his or her property often, they need to maintain a good relationship with some of the neighbors to have them keep an eye on their land for them," Hacker said.
Hacker feels any of these aforementioned measures may have prevented Betts from stealing or at least reduced the extent of the thefts.
Hacker also pointed out the forest management and practices are important to the community at large because of economic factors. He noted that Vinton County's forests constitute a part of the growing tourism potential of the region. He explained that when people harvest timber illegally, they tend to take the best logs and leave the forest in an unnatural state, thus making it less appealing to tourists and less productive in the future."
"An event at the Moonville Tunnel recently drew hundreds of people to the area," said Hacker. The forest, he continued, also attracts bird watchers, hikers, photographers\videographers and others wishing to experience nature in some way.
Mismanagement of our woodlands could have a detrimental effect on all of these activities and more. Hacker hopes these tips make people aware of how important the forest are. For more information on this topic or other forest related questions please visit www.ohiowood.osu.edu and look under the publications tab.