Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.

Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.

Tree poaching from public forests increasing in B.C. as lumber hits record prices

Prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago

Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels.

Forestry experts and officials say reports of people sneaking into public forests to illegally saw down firs, cedars and maples are rising.

Recent prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago.

“It’s an economic motive for sure,” said Matt Austin, a B.C. Forests Ministry assistant deputy minister. “These trees can be pretty valuable.”

While the trees may be lucrative on the black market for thieves, they play a more vital stewardship role in the forests, Austin said.

Government natural resource officers have investigated situations where the poachers have caused environmental damage by taking down large Douglas fir or red cedar trees near sensitive waterways, he said.

“These big trees, they’re providers of a whole variety of ecosystem benefits in terms of the stability of the banks and riparian areas, the habitat for wildlife, including cavity nesting birds that need these larger trees.”

Austin said he arrived at a scene near Nanaimo on Vancouver Island where a would-be thief cut down a large Douglas fir but it didn’t go as planned and the tree was left to rot.

“In this case, the tree had fallen away from the road and just put it in a position where it was going to be really difficult to get it out, so they just walked away,” Austin said.

In January, municipal forester Shaun Mason said he started to investigate reports of dozens of fir trees being cut down inside North Cowichan’s 5,000-hectare municipal forest reserve on southern Vancouver Island.

“I’d say from the end of January to early February, there’s one particular area where we noticed a significant increase in timber cutting and obvious theft because there is no authorized cutting in that area,” he said. “It started in one specific area and it kind of quietened down for a couple of weeks and then it popped up again.”

Mason said the trees that were cut down were between 10 and 20 metres tall, but there are also signs of people cutting dead trees, which leads to speculation that people are looking for free firewood.

“My suspicion is given the high price of a cord of firewood and just given the lack of availability in our general area, it is resulting in people going to these open areas and cutting trees for the purposes of firewood,” he said. “On average, I probably get three calls a week, and have for a long time, from people looking for firewood permits.”

The B.C. tree poaching issue has captured the interest of Prof. Terry Sunderland, a tropical forestry expert at the University of B.C.

Sunderland said he is captivated by the similarities of the illegal logging issue in B.C. compared with his studies in countries in west-central Africa.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “I’m a professor of tropical forestry at UBC and all the issues I’ve been dealing with, illegal logging, protected area encroachment, illegal farming, human-wildlife conflict, and I move to Canada and you have these very same issues in a country which is completely different.”

Sunderland said in Africa, people believe they have customary rights to take trees from forests, while in B.C., forests are largely public but subject to strict regulations and permits.

“Here it’s an outright case of illegal logging, whether it’s for firewood or lumber,” he said.

Sunderland said the high lumber prices are likely driving the thefts, but they’ve also resulted in the cutting down of other tree species beyond firs and cedar.

“There’s been instances of individual maple trees being targeted, particularly the older ones, which have obviously really nice grain and that nice hardwood finish,” he said.

Hardwoods are typically used in high-end furniture, Sunderland said.

Austin said the large firs and cedars have many uses and can command high prices.

“What I have heard is that there are certain potential unique uses for these trees,” he said. “The big diameters are worth more money not just because there’s more wood there, but because you can do larger-dimension things like a table top, or I have heard of a bar top being made.”

He said provincial data over the past dozen years indicates hundreds of tree poaching instances that range from abuse of firewood permits, to cutting outside of permitted logging zones and taking individual trees from parks or Crown forests.

READ MORE: ‘It is a gold mine:’ Builders warned of rising lumber thefts across Canada

Since 2009, the province has received 1,135 complaints about illegal logging and issued 966 violation tickets that total $123,700, he said. The province has also handed out more than $1 million in administrative penalties for contraventions of authorized harvest permits, said Austin.

The penalties under the Forest and Range Practices Act for being found guilty of damaging or destroying Crown timber include fines of up to $1 million, three years in prison or both, Austin said.

Natural resource officers, conservation officers, the RCMP, municipal officials and members of the public patrol forests, he said.

Mason said North Cowichan has stepped up forest patrols in recent months. He said theft of the tree resource is secondary to protection of people.

“Our No. 1 concern is for the safety of the public and even the people committing these acts,’ he said. “Falling trees is an extremely dangerous activity and it’s even more dangerous when we’ve noticed people falling blown-over trees.”

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Crimesoftwood lumber

Just Posted

An example of what a mural would look like on the back wall on Ron’s Bait and Tackle Store which faces the courtyard and sidewall. The mural photos shown here are mock-ups of existing artwork on walls of interest in the downtown core to build anticipation within the community about the concept of murals. The KPAA will not necessarily be using these locations or this artwork for the actual murals. (KPAA photo)
Kitimat Public Art Alliance mural funding request denied

D’Andrea suggested she will come back to the council at a later date with a more concrete plan

L-R: Vanessa Cuoto, Montana Murray, Connor Best, Dawn Best, Natalia Lopez, Thomas Walton, and Charlotte Collier partaking in the clean-up Kitimat campaign on May 28. (Katie Peacock photo)
Kitimat’s MStar Hotel brings out staff’s competitive clean-up side

The hotel staff circulated the Big Spruce Trailhead and picked up as much garbage as they could

Kitimat’s Water Quality Advisory, which has been in place for just over a week, has been lifted. (Black Press file photo)
Water Quality Advisory in Kitimat lifted

The district has been under a Water Quality Advisory since June 2

On June 16 at 6 p.m., the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a public presentation and discussion with Happipad, a social enterprise, to talk about solutions for affordable housing Kitimat. (Happipad photo)
Affordable housing to be focus of Kitimat Chamber of Commerce meeting

Figures indicate the average Kitimat household needs to make more than $92,000 a year

(District of Kitimat logo)
Hirsch Creek Bridge restricted to single lane traffic

The district is restricting the bridge traffic to legal highway loads only

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Most Read