The Stealing of the Woods
by Rory Brown
Although this is an article about events that could affect the sport of four-wheeling in the province of British Columbia, it illustrates the need for ALL four-wheelers to be observant while out enjoying our sport.
LOG THEFT...how could groups of organized forestry thieves
cutting down trees in BC's forests affect the sport of four-wheeling? Well, according to the provincial government, $20 million dollars (CDN) of potential tax revenue are failing to make it into the coffers per year! It's a black market that involves $100 million dollars (CDN) worth of illegal wood products per year, and when this amount of money is being lost or obtained through illegal actions, governments and businesses get upset. And when it involves the forests, that often means that we, the four-wheelers, end up paying the price through trail closures.
The aftermath of a typical tree theft operation.
BC has a five-member Forest Crimes investigation unit. There are no
other units like it in Canada. "These gangs are getting more
sophisticated and the problem of log theft is growing," says Cpl. Peter Jadis, a member of the unit. Their investigations reveal that four to five gangs are operating in the Chilliwack-Hope area of the lower mainland. Several others are known to be active on Vancouver Island, with one recently detected in Cape Scott Provincial Park located at the northern tip of the Island. This group was operating with a portable mill to process the large blocks of wood for shipping.
"Old-growth red cedar trees are what these guys are mainly looking for,"
says Cpl Jadis, "they go anywhere to get the wood and some of the more brazen ones are even going into popular parks and recreation areas like Manning Park."
"An afternoon's work for two guys with a chain saw and a pick-up
truck will get them between $1500 and $2000 worth of cedar. We
had one guy who got $56,000 in cash payments in three months
from stolen cedar. Others, the more organized ones, won't hesitate to hire helicopters at $600 an hour to pick up large bundles from deep in the forest and move to a nearby road to load them into trucks."
How do these wood butchers do it? Ian Hartley, of the Chilliwack Forest
Service office, says the typical illegal logging operation employs between two and six people. They use chain saws fitted with mufflers to avoid alerting campers or other outdoor user groups. Some work at night using propane lamps and come back later to pick up the wood. In rough terrain or where the tree or trees may be some distance from a road, they will set up cables and/or winches to slide or pull the wood blocks to the road.
Huge, old-growth trees are prime candidates for falling
victim to tree thieves.
Most of these thefts are occurring in the Fraser valley, on Vancouver
Island and along the coast. But it is happening in the rest of the province too. Cedar grows in wet areas and these areas are not confined to the coast. "Cedar log theft has also taken place around Terrace, Revelstoke, and in an area near Salmon Arm," says Constable Brown, also a member of the RCMP unit. Although red cedar appears to be the major wood of choice, by no means is it the only wood the thieves target. Some of these guys have been known to steal hemlock from the interior of the province. Curly maple is another target as a pallet of this can fetch around $60,000 at the mill. It's a wood coveted by manufacturers of violins and guitars.
So why should we help stop this? Well, as a taxpayer, it costs money
to fight this problem and the missing revenue hurts our collective wallets. But the real threat is to our sport and it comes from the government and the forest industry. If they cannot get a handle on this problem, they will likely resort to closing access to the afflicted areas.
Stumps are often covered with moss to hide them from
As four-wheelers, we do not want nor need any more gates that would limit our admittance to the trails that we use. As we enter the 21st century our sport is coming under ever increasing pressures from many sides. Some of these pressures are beyond our control, some are not. This particular issue is one we can affect if we all make a concerted effort.
"It takes tough and tedious work to try and physically
match pieces of seized wood with stumps and left-over debris at the crime scene," says Cpl. Peter Jadis, "catching the guys red-handed is always the best." With 430 Forestry compliance/enforcement officers and the five-man RCMP unit trying to cover 93 million hectares of forest land along 160,000 kilometers of logging road, they're resources are stretched to their limits.
Since we four-wheelers spend time in these same areas, and we have a vested interest in keeping the trails open, it only makes sense to help the Forestry and RCMP officers. More "eyeballs" in the forest will improve the chances of catching these thieves in the act.
What to look for: Constable Brown says, "where these guys find
most of this old-growth cedar is in the buffer zones along creeks/rivers and around lakes." (These zones of standing trees are left due to the requirements of the provincial government.) These trees are old and large, and he says that, "once these trees are knocked down, it generally affects the landscape view of a stand of trees." In other words, the missing tree, which usually knocks down a few surrounding trees as it falls, will often leave an obvious and unnatural-looking vacancy in the view. This visual scar is frequently visible over surprisingly long distances.
Have you seen an area like this? If so, contact Forestry
or the RCMP.
In the case of the eight trees cut out of the buffer zone around
Foley Lake, "they fell a tree across the road and the debris left behind on the road led to the discovery of the theft." Troy Sterling, a regional compliance and enforcement specialist with the Vancouver Forest Office located in Nanaimo, BC, says "that cable or wire strung through the woods will be a sign that something illegal is or has happened."
When asked if a lot of wood debris laying about would be a sure sign that theft has occurred, he said "It can be, but some of these guys are real meticulous about cleaning up everything."
Here is a list of a few of the more obvious things that might indicate
that log theft has occurred:
- A single log cut down and laying where there appears to be no logging operations active.
- Rounds (the tree trunk cut through every 2 to 3 feet) or shake blocks laying around as if they have been abandoned.
- Fresh stumps or rounds camouflaged with moss or leaves.
"There are legitimate operators out there that are small," says Sterling, "but if you feel something illegal is going on, call a Forestry office or the RCMP and report it. We would rather go out and confirm that the operation is legit then let a theft of logs go undetected."
So when you're out there having fun in the rig of your choice and enjoying all the great things that the province of British Columbia has to offer, be observant, pack out more than you packed in (trash wise), and if you see something that does not look right logging-wise, REPORT IT!
About Rory Brown
I have been four-wheeling for more years than I'd like to admit...
over 20+ years (started when 'sports utility vehicle' were actually three separate words). I've been a member of the Nanaimo Sidewinders 4X4 Club since 1978 and am the current webmaster for our web site. I'm also a past member of the 4WDABC (Education Chairman, Region 1 VP, club rep. at association conventions, instructor of winch courses).
I've written several articles and reports for the 'Backroader',
represented the 4WDABC and mechanized user groups at the C.O.R.E.
meetings on Vancouver Island, and made presentations on behalf of the 4WDABC to the Forest Service for the Nahmint Valley near Port Alberni.
And finally and most importantly, I'm happily married, with 3 daughters and a son, so Jeeps are just too darn small.