Forest expert intends to strengthen laws against timber theft

LIBERTY COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The Texas lumber and logging industry is gaining momentum. In 2021, the forestry sector generated an economic impact of $41.6 billion and provided more than 170,000 jobs. In addition, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, the lumber industry was one of the top ten manufacturing sectors in the state, and timber was ranked seventh among Texas agricultural commodities.

People tried to capitalize on this success by stealing timber – this could be literally stealing trees from someone’s property without the consent of the landowner, or breaking a contract by not paying the full purchase price.

The latter happened recently, in 2019, when three men were convicted of timber theft for conspiring to steal timber from an employer. The company hired men to transport timber from the manufacturer to the sawmill. They forged documents to get money from the deal and cut out their employer.

“So they were able to defraud their rightful legal owner of that wood by selling it using fraudulent information,” said Josh Mizrani, law enforcement investigator for the Texas A&M Forest Service.

All three were charged and pleaded guilty. The court ordered them to pay fines in various amounts. After pleading guilty to second-degree felony charges, one of the convicts was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and $102,776 in restitution.

Timber theft laws have been in place for the past several decades, but Rob Hughes, executive director of the Texas Forestry Association, said he is currently writing new legislation to modernize and strengthen them. He said that the way business is done has changed, so the laws must change.

“(The way they are written now) has given some people the ability to get around the loopholes that we have in our laws. And so we’re just trying to reinforce what’s already in the book,” Hughes said.

Hughes believes that if the laws are strengthened, they will discourage bad actors from trying to deceive people in this booming industry.

He said the new legislation would require workers to do more detailed documentation and record more accurate information in bills of sale. Hughes also wants there to be punishment for those who don’t follow these rules.

“Some (people) figured out how to get around (laws) at the contract level. So we’re just reinforcing what’s already there.”

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