Tree theft is a rising crime in Iowa, with thieves stealing them off people’s property

Tree theft is a rising crime in Iowa, with thieves stealing them off people's property

People stealing trees from public and private land in Iowa is an infrequent but growing occurrence, according to state conservation officers.

The crimes range considerably in their scope and sophistication, and the value of the heists can be lucrative. Some of the culprits might haul their looted timber with ramshackle trailers. Others might have full-on logging rigs.

Some of the thefts happen out in the open, such as when a company is contracted to harvest timber from a certain area but oversteps its bounds to cut down a valuable-looking tree on an adjacent property. A prime black walnut trunk can fetch upwards of $10,000.

Other thefts are conducted in the dead of night. In one recent instance, a thief was cutting trees in an area near a highway and would only operate his chainsaw when the sound of passing traffic would cover its noise.

“Timber theft was something we never used to see, and now it’s become a bigger thing,” said Craig Cutts, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resource’s Law Enforcement Bureau.

He said perhaps the most egregious recent offense happened in Pocahontas County last year, when someone allegedly cut more than 100 trees from a state wildlife management area. One of the trees was a bur oak with a trunk about six feet in diameter.

“That tree was a sapling when Iowa was made a state,” Cutts said. “It’s incredible somebody would cut that down.”

The DNR does not keep a reliable list of timber theft reports, but Capt. Brian Smith, who oversees the bureau’s region of southwest Iowa, estimates that the department has investigated about a dozen in the past two years.

“All across Iowa, timber theft has either been on the increase or at least it’s being recognized on a larger scale than it used to,” he said. “I believe it’s the former of the two — that it has increased — and it has been increasing for a number of years.”

The cause of that uptick is unclear. Smith speculates that a growing number of absentee landowners — those who own land but seldom set foot on it — gives potential thieves more opportunities and decreases the public surveillance of wider rural areas.

You can read the full article at the Des Moines Register.