Arkansas forest landowners need to be aware of the possibility of “legal theft,” the practice of getting a landowner to accept a price for timber far below its actual value, according to a forester. To avoid selling their timber for far less that it is worth, landowners should have their timber appraised by a licensed appraiser.


“Nowadays, incidents of timber theft are less common, but they still occur,” Joe Friend, forester for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said in a news release.


Prior to and during the early 2000s, some unscrupulous loggers would cut logs on the property adjacent to the one they were harvesting, he said. They might then have those extra logs processed at another mill so the crime would not be as traceable.


“In the unlikely event they were caught and brought to court, loggers guilty of timber theft would just say the theft was accidental,” Friend said. “In those days, the judicial system was not as aware of timber theft, and it was harder to get prosecutions.”


Things changed for the better when laws were passed that mandated the clear marking of property lines. Loggers who crossed those property lines were then guilty of criminal trespassing. Most of the companies that engaged in illegal logging practices are now out of business.


“Occasionally, out-of-state loggers come to Arkansas and drive around looking for timberland owned by an absentee landowner. They may harvest a few loads of timber, then leave the state. In cases like this, the thieves may have help from a local,” Friend said.


More so than instances of illegal harvesting on their property, Arkansas forest landowners need to be aware of “legal theft,” getting a landowner to accept a price for timber far below its actual value. Once a contract is signed, it is legal and legitimate – no matter how bad the terms of the sale are for the landowner.


“Some companies target out-of-state landowners and offer them one-third the actual value of the timber,” Friend said. “Initially, the landowner thinks they have found a good deal and don’t want to pass it up. I have heard of cases where a landowner has accepted $10,000 for land that was actually worth $100,000. In cases like this, if the contract has already been signed, the landowner has limited options to contest the sale.”


To avoid selling their timber for far less that it is worth, landowners should have their timber appraised by a licensed appraiser. Hiring a consultant forester is a good way to ensure an optimal timber sale.


“Consultant foresters make the sale process much easier – they can create a fair contract and handle other details that relate to things like site cleanup,” Friend said. “Most commonly, consultants put the timber out for bid, selling to the highest bidder. Though they may charge a 10 percent commission to handle the sale, they usually make the landowner enough money to make up for this fee.”


Friend said families who have heir property (land inherited by a group of individuals) also need to be aware of some risks related to timber. This type of property leaves families without the clear titles that allow for active management of the land. One frequent problem occurs when one family member harvests and sells timber without giving a cut of the sale to any other family members.


“Sometimes timber buyers will find one family member who wants to sell and work with that person over a period of time,” he said. “I’ve gone on site visits where individuals were confused as to who harvested the land. In cases of heir property, all family members should be part of timber sales.”


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