Thieves take 20,000 pounds of pine boughs; destroy hundreds of trees on state trust land

Pine bough theft
A few of the several hundred trees stripped of their branches recently by thieves seeking pine boughs to sell. Photo: DNR.

Holiday wreaths and garlands made from pine boughs are a wonderful sight to behold but, unfortunately, their seasonal popularity — and the opportunity to make some quick cash — can bring out the worst in a few people.

DNR Law Enforcement Services is investigating the recent theft of up to 20,000 pounds of pine boughs clipped from a 3-acre mixed stand of white pine on state trust land the department manages. A person hunting on the Olympic Peninsula about 40 miles north of Forks tipped off DNR as the theft was taking place. The thieves were able to leave before officers could arrive at the remote site.

The cost? An estimated 20,000 pounds of boughs were taken — about $5,000 at a wholesale price of 25 cents per pound. But there’s an additional cost. Since many of the trees may not survive after having most of their branches hacked off, the lost timber may amount to an additional $19,500 at today’s log prices. This incident, which ultimately is a cost to Washington residents, is an example of why DNR is putting more emphasis on enforcing rules for harvesting boughs and other forest products.

The incident was apparently theft because the only area harvested was well hidden from a nearby road which made for a longer walk than necessary under a permitted harvest. Only immature (shorter and easier-to-reach) trees were affected and, worse, the thieves denuded many trees, likely killing them.

The permits DNR issues to commercial harvesters require them to work only in designated areas, avoid harvesting from the youngest trees, and take only a limited percentage of branches from each tree. DNR had planned to lease some of the area next year when the trees would be more mature but that lease will be cancelled and the revenue lost.

The losers are the schools, county services and other beneficiaries of state trust land revenues.

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