Tree poaching on the rise in forest
Last updated 12/6/2022 at Noon
Tree thieves increase in numbers and are more brazen as we enter firewood season, and as a cord of wood is selling for $275 to $295 in Sisters Country. And that may or may not be split and/or delivered. It might just be rounds you pick up.
As the price for propane rises, homeowners are turning to Mother Nature more frequently to heat their dwellings, or at least partially so. In Central Oregon a cord of firewood (128 cubic feet; typically a pile eight feet long by four feet wide by four feet high) is up about 25 percent from a year ago, which itself was up double digits from 2020.
Where better to get your wood than the Deschutes National Forest, including, perhaps, a stop in Sisters for a bit of shopping. And it’s free. Up to eight cords per season per household for personal use. That’s just about what it takes to heat a three-bedroom home for a winter.
The Sisters District Ranger’s office issues permits for about 3,000 cords annually. That might only be half or less of the wood taken, however, as poachers help themselves to trees. And not just any trees — legacy trees that are hundreds of years old. Trees far in excess of the size limit (24 inches in diameter) and, lately, live trees.
Permits are only good for dead trees, which are abundant. You might wonder why you even need a permit for a dead tree or why there would be a size restriction for a tree lying on the ground decaying.
Start with wildlife. Dead and dying trees provide food and shelter for many wild animals. As a tree dies, each stage of decomposition plays a role in the feeding, breeding, or housing of wildlife.
The dead tree trunk is a good source of food for woodpeckers, particularly the pileated varieties. The root is used by flycatchers for perching, by grouse for dusting, and juncos for nesting.
Limbs are used as perches, and if hollow, as nest cavities. The spaces between loose bark and the wood are used as hiding and thermal cover by invertebrates and small vertebrates such as the Pacific tree frog.
Then there is the nutrient value. Dead wood breaks down into nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. These nutrients enrich the soil near decaying wood, helping new plants grow and keeping living ones healthy as the nutrients are reabsorbed.
The woodcutting season ended last week, November 30, having begun May 1. The rules, once you have a valid permit, are few and easy to follow. You can cut and remove all species of standing or down, dead trees less than 24 inches in diameter or 75 inches in circumference located within 150 feet of the road edge.
Speaking of the road — stay on it. Do not drive your vehicle onto the forest floor itself. And no winches. That’s it for the most part. Obviously, you won’t get a permit to cut in a designated wilderness area or sensitive riparian area. The Forest Service will give you a very clear and detailed map of where, and where not, to cut.
Last week, The Nugget accompanied a forest protection officer, Jeremy Fields, as he showed us dozens of examples of illegal cutting within a few miles of the city limits. Several of the trees, or their remains, were as old as 400 years when they stopped living, and one was 50 inches in diameter, twice the legal limit.
We found freshly cut live trees that exceeded the size, lying on the ground; poachers or joy-fallers were probably frightened off only hours before. The District has increased its patrol and has resorted to installing wildlife cameras in some places in hopes of catching violators in the act.
Two adult males, not from Sisters Country, were recently cited by Forest Service Law Enforcement officers for violations. Their charges included cutting without a permit, driving off-road, and cutting a tree in excess of size limitations. The penalties carry hefty fines up to $500 per incident.
Most violators are not apprehended, even though most of their illegal harvesting is clearly visible from Highway 20 or 242 (McKenzie Highway). District Ranger Ian Reid is hoping to create awareness of the problem and educating the public in the correct procedure for taking a tree from the forest.
Reid said, “We have miles and miles of roads with plenty of permissible trees. There really is no need to take trees that don’t meet the rules. If in doubt, just ask the office and we will show you areas of easy access with plenty of trees.”
Do not take any enforcement action yourself if you come into proximity with suspected illegal cutting. Leave it to the professionals. Make note of the location and call 541-549-7700.