The Political Economy of Timber Theft

Notes From the Big Outside

Log scaling yard. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Stealing trees is as old as the King’s timber reserves. The sanctions for such sylvan thievery have always been harsh. In medieval England, it meant public torture and slow death. In the US, the levy was a kind of financial death penalty –triple damages plus serious jail time.

A few years ago, two tree poachers drove a log truck onto a small farm in central Indiana after midnight, cut down two 100-year-old black walnut trees in the small woodlot, loaded the pilfered trunks onto their truck and fled across a cornfield. The county sheriff caught them when their truck stalled in the field and sank in the mud. It turns out that the men had been hired by a local sawmill owner, who was set to sell the lumber to a German timber broker. All three men were tried and convicted of tree theft.

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Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3

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