Tree poachers strike in Sisters
Last updated 12/19/2023 at 10:16am
While Sisters Ranger District Special Forest Products Officer Jeremy Fields and local volunteer Therese Kollerer were out on a Forest Service volunteer clean-up and patrol on December 4, they stopped to examine the site of a crime.
Someone had felled a very large, green old-growth ponderosa pine.
The felling of a large, important tree - one that the Forest Service had gone out of its way to protect during fuels treatment in the area - is a stark example of a problem that is plaguing the Sisters Ranger District. Tree poachers are felling trees in the area around Tollgate, up Forest Road 16 (Three Creek Road), and elsewhere.
"Green Ridge is a chronic area for us," said Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid.
Reid noted that, in the case of the Crossroads tree, the top was taken.
"Was it the same person who felled the tree? We don't know that," he said.
Reid very much wants to catch the culprit or culprits.
"I can't say a lot, because it's an open investigation, but that is one of the highest priorities for me for law enforcement on the District," he said.
The poaching problem is significant. Fields told The Nugget that there has always been an issue with people illegally felling trees, often to sell as firewood. However, he thinks the problem is growing.
"I do think there are more trees being cut," he said. "What I'm seeing is large-diameter wildlife trees being cut. I've used the word thousands of trees. I don't think I'm exaggerating."
Fields said he began to see an uptick during COVID. Evidence indicates that most of the cutting is not being done by professionals but by "unskilled fellers who are lucky as heck."
Felling trees with an undersized saw when you don't really know what you're doing is extremely dangerous, because a tree can fall in unpredictable ways.
The cutting of a major, green tree is "different," Fields said.
Reid said there are basically four categories of tree poaching. Some is "subsistence" poaching, where people are cutting trees to heat their own home or camp. Some is, as Fields identified, illegal commercial firewood cutting.
"I think some people may be doing some milling," Reid said. "It's probably pretty rare, but I think it is happening."
Both Reid and Fields noted that some people seem to be felling trees simply for "sport." Perhaps they're playing with a new chain saw, or imitating things they see on social media -motivation is speculative.
As far as the foresters are concerned, it's no different than poaching an animal and leaving it to rot, or taking the head for a trophy, and perhaps a prime cut.
"It's that same just criminal mentality, and no sense of right and wrong," Reid said.
Fields notes that some people seem to get a kick out of stealing from the feds.
"You're not stealing from the Forest Service," Fields said. "You're stealing from the community."
Fields notes that the loss of a wildlife tree is greater than its simple value as timber.
"It's super important," he said. "That's why we left it there."
There are reputable, legal firewood sellers to buy from. Fields said the public can help quell the problem by not buying from people who are selling on a black market.
"Quit buying from these people," he said. "Guy shows up at your property in a beater truck and looks like a tree poacher - probably a tree poacher."
Fields emphasizes that the vast majority of firewood cutters are responsible, and that cutting firewood legally is a legitimate and important part of a working forest.
"You should see people out there cutting firewood," he said.
Personal-use firewood permits are free, though a permit is still required. The public can obtain up to eight cords of wood per year. This firewood cannot be sold. People interested in selling firewood must obtain a commercial permit at a Forest Service office.
The pinecones that grace many a yule wreath come from the forest.
"A few years ago, your cone contract sold for $30,000," Fields said.
Fields said that the public has been good about "see something, say something." If you come across evidence of tree poaching, it is helpful to be able to give location information, including google coordinates, and the timeframe in which you found the tree.
Do not confront people in the act; pass information on to the Forest Service at 541-549-7700.