Caught Three Times
18 January 2023 Aaron Gilland Forest Industry Fraud
I have talked frequently in this newsletter about the unique challenges of landowners trying to not only find a source for harvesting their timber, but more importantly finding one that is ethical and will do the work as agreed and pays per the contract agreement.
Your woodland is a considerable financial investment and a source of personal enjoyment and satisfaction. Years of growth can be derailed in a few days when you hire a logging company that does a poor job. A poor job being damaging residual stands, cutting trees outside the contract, damaging roads, underpayment and even a refusal to pay for harvested timber.
The story below is about a logger who had three counts of failure to pay in the past six months alone. Those were just the ones identified. There’s no telling if there are others who have just not come forward for whatever reason.
Selecting a good contractor is a serious issue. I can’t caution enough about the importance of making sure the logging company you select has integrity and competence. Below I’ll share some tips from the American Forest Foundation (Hiring a Logger) for you to consider when looking for a logging company.
Read on to learn about James Travis Johnson. His thefts are relatively small but that is typical for most timber thefts. They don’t just steal once. In the end there have been several victims. I don’t know about you, but even small amounts of theft aggravate me!
While you are reading, consider how you can make sure you don’t become a landowner without the trees or the money you should have earned from the harvest.
|Vernon Paris Man Arrested for Timber Theft|
History certainly seems to repeat itself in this case. The first account in this case is when 48-year-old James Travis Johnson was arrested by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s Enforcement agents and booked into the Vernon Parish Detention Center on Timber Theft and other timber-related charges on August 9, 2022.
Later that day he was arrested in Rapides Parish on additional timber theft charges.
Weeks before following an investigation, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry ‘s Enforcement agents (LDAF) received a complaint that Johnson failed to pay for loads of timber valued at $1,860.74.
If convicted, Johnson could receive a fine of up to $5,000 and/or jail time up to five years for the timber theft and up to $1000 in fines and/or up to one year in jail for the false statement.
Two days later, on August 11, Johnson was arrested again for two additional counts of timber theft. Again, LDAF Forestry Enforcement agents received complaints from two separate landowners who each owned four-acre tracts of timberland in the area.
In the first complaint the landowner told authorities that Johnson harvested the timber per their agreement but never paid the landowner. In the second complaint, the logger cut a tract of timber without the consent of the landowner.
As far as I can tell, the case has not yet been to trial .Then, three months later, in November 2022, a landowner accused James Travis Johnson of completing a harvest, without making any payments to the landowner. The landowner was owed $24,407.65 for the timber. Johnson was charged with one count of Harvest of Forest Products/Failure to Remit Payment. Although he was contacted several times, he would promise payment and then not show up. Finally, he surrendered himself at the Vernon Parish Sheriff’s Office on the one count of failing to pay. Bond of $20,000 was paid and Johns was released on the same day.
|Finding Good Loggers|
Choosing the best timber harvesting company or logger for your land can be a daunting process. There are many professional loggers with integrity and will pay on time and accurately. It is important to invest the necessary time and resources to make sure you find one that is ethical and trustworthy.
Thanks to the American Forest Foundation, here are a few tips to do that:
*Go by word of mouth. Ask your consulting forester or your states forestry organizations to refer a logger or ask your fellow woodland owners.
*Check Qualifications. Do they have any training or certifications? Most professional loggers will be participating in logger training and certification programs. These programs are not mandated but continuing education participation contributes to professionalism.
*Check References. If you don’t know of anyone who has used the company, ask them to give you references. Specifically ask about the condition of the trees that were not harvested and the condition of the surrounding land and soil. Consider visiting a site the logger had harvested.
*Insurance/Liability. Request copies of certificates of insurance such as general liability, auto liability for log truckers, workers’ compensation. If the logger doesn’t have insurance, you could be held personally liable for any accidents on your property.
*Multiple bids. Get at least three bids based on the clear scope of the work. Clearly mark the trees you want cut.
*Negotiate prices. Check stumpage prices (the price offered by a logger for your trees as they stand in the forest) offered for similar timber listed with published sources or call local mills directly for the most up-to-date market prices. Understand if the prices include accessibility, timber quality, road distances, market demand, sale volume, species, etc. to make sure you are comparing apples to apples.
*Sign a contract. Clearly lay out what the logger will do, e.g., which trees to cut, what clean-up will be done, how damage from heavy equipment will be minimized, and payment amounts and time frames.
* And if after you consider all of these data points, you may find yourself in need of a good consulting forester check with the Association of Consulting Foresters to find a forester near you. (this last bullet point is my opinion and was not part of the tips provided by the American Forest Foundation).