When people think of wildlife crime, piles of confiscated ivory, poaching and black market sales come to mind. What many people don’t realize, is that destruction of protected species goes far beyond international icons like elephants and rhinos. Some trees can be iconic too and need special protection.
Just like wildlife poaching, there are unethical people, motivated by greed, who seek to profit without regard to population levels or ecosystem health. Just like hunting and fishing, timber harvest is a legal enterprise that is managed through sound science, habitat assessments and review by state and federal foresters. When people illegally take wildlife, or alter ecosystems, we all lose out. This is why a recent investigation and court case in Indiana is groundbreaking.
Together, with our counterparts in the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Indiana, we put one career violator behind bars for illegally harvesting a stand of black walnut trees. Cheyenne Allen, of Salyersville, Kentucky is facing 10 months in prison for an illegal timber scheme where he stole timber from someone else’s private land.
In Indiana, timber can only be harvested by the landowner or by a licensed timber buyer who has purchased the timber. In 2011, Allen saw an opportunity near Logansport, Indiana to take advantage of an unsuspecting landowner and defraud him of almost $85,000 in high-quality timber. Allen’s timber buyer’s license was previously revoked by Indiana Department of Natural Resources in October 2009, because of repeated timber theft and other violations across multiple counties of northern Indiana.
Deceptively posing as the new owner of nearly 20-acres of land, Allen organized a crew to harvest the timber and marketed the logs to saw mills – all without actually being the landowner. Harvested logs were sold to companies in Indiana and Kentucky. Products from these trees eventually made it as far as Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Spain, Portugal, Austria and other international forest product buyers.
“This case is a prime example of how important it is to collaborate with our state conservation partners to stop career violators,” said Edward Grace, Deputy Assistant Director for Law Enforcement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It sends a serious message that we will not tolerate the profiteering of America’s natural resource legacy,” continued Grace.
Black walnut is one of six walnut tree species found in the United States and one of 15 species found worldwide. This slow-growing tree is native to the central and eastern regions of our country and can live to be more than 200 years old, with diameters as wide as three to four feet! Black walnut is the most valuable tree species in the Midwest based on price per board foot. It is in high demand internationally for specialty woodworking including flooring and furniture wood inlays.
While this is the first timber case federally prosecuted in Indiana, it isn’t an isolated occurrence. In 2013, a similar case in Iowa ended with prison time for the thief who stole more than 30 black walnut trees, some at least 140 years old. While we prevented future illegal actions by these individuals, we cannot bring back the resource that they stole. Trees of this age and quality don’t happen by accident and were managed for years by caring landowners.
“The majority of logging and timber buying in Indiana is completely legal and is carried out by good, hard-working people who are trying to make a living in a business that can be volatile in correlation with the economy,” said Forester Duane McCoy, with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Licensed Timber Buyers Program.
“To prevent timber theft or trespass, landowners should know and mark their property lines and have a timber sale contract when selling their timber,” continued McCoy.
One way to lessen the chances of timber theft on your land is to work with land surveyors to accurately mark your property lines. Clear signage is another way to let people know they are on private property. We can all help protect the remaining stands of black walnut and other protected trees by staying vigilant against fraudulent schemes by rogues like Allen.