A victim's guide to what to do when timber trespass or timber theft is suspected.
So you suspect you are the victim of timber theft...
You were out walking your property line and based on what you saw, you suspect the neighbor's logger probably had trouble coloring within the lines as a kid. Somehow a few trees close to the property line but clearly on your side have disappeared, leaving ugly stumps. Or, maybe bulldozing a logging road across part of your property and knocking over a few trees provided for an easier way to haul your neighbor's trees to the nearest road and the logger never got around to asking your permission. You probably feel some combination of curiosity, anxiety and anger. Was it a mistake? Who did it? When? How much were the trees or road worth to the logger? Why didn't the person just ask permission and offer fair compensation? Doesn't the average logger know how to determine a property line?
Gather information at the scene
Now is not the time to get upset or wonder if the trespass and damage were honest mistakes or simple greed or laziness. The first order of business is to gather information. Get a camera and a tape measure and also a pad of paper and a pencil. Try walking the property line and sketching the property boundary, stump locations and other landmarks such as fences, roads, trails, surveying markers and structures. If you are tech savvy, get a google map. Take photos showing the damage. If a can of spraypaint is accessible, numbering the stumps which you are CERTAIN are on your property could be helpful. If you have a tape measure, measure the height of the stumps and take two diameter measurements and average them. Don't be overly generous with yourself on the measurements; your credibility will matter far more later on than an inch of tree diameter in determining your damages. Try to gauge how far onto your property the trespass and/or theft took place.
Gather additional information
Usually timber theft and timber trespass occurs when an adjacent parcel is logged and a logger intentionally or accidentally crosses the property line and harvests logs belonging to a neighbor. If you are the victim, you will want to know your neighbor's name so that you can obtain a copy of the relevant timber harvest contract. These days you should be able to get a name and address of the neighboring parcel's owner and the owner's address online at your county's land information website. Don't worry too much if you can't locate the information; many attorneys know how to use property record and other databases to locate difficult-to-find people and other information.
Arrange for an appointment with an attorney familiar with timber trespass/timber theft law
There are statutes which deal specifically with damages available for timber trespass/theft. Depending on the steps the logger took to identify the property boundary and whether you can reasonably hope to prove the logger intentionally damaged your property by cutting your trees or a logging road across your property, vastly different damages may be available. A dozen trees might only have a stumpage value (a term of art an attorney would know) of a few hundred dollars. However, those same trees may have a replacement cost of ten thousand dollars or more. In addition to your actual damages, you may be eligible to recover punitive or exemplary damages, the costs of investigating the matter and, hopefully, your attorney's fees. There are limitations on when actions for timber trespass or theft can be initiated, so don't delay in seeing an attorney. If you have found value in this guide, I would be happy to give you a free consultation. I travel so don't worry about distance.
Enter settlement negotiations or file suit
You will want to discuss the merits of the case with your attorney. If you have a case, the attorney may want to hire a forester to accurately calculate your damages. A surveyor may need to be hired to determine the precise property line. An expert with knowledge of nursery stock may be necessary if you are able to recover the replacement cost of your trees. Once all the information is collected, your attorney will likely want to attempt to settle the case before filing any lawsuit. The defendants may want to settle sooner than later because if they realize they are likely to lose their case, they very well may be forced to pay your attorney's fees and attorney's fees only go up over time.