Timber theft trend spreading into Nebraska

Published: Feb. 22, 2019 at 3:36 PM CST
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An unusual Midwest crime trend has made its way to Nebraska and Iowa.

Thieves are stealing black walnut trees and selling them for profit.

Both private and public land is being targeted, especially in rural areas. Nebraska Game and Parks has caught poachers in the metro already.

"These thieves will go in at low light or at night, probably a truck and at trailer situation, and they may use electric chain saws to take down several logs and night and try to sneak out. And then they'll go and sell fresh cut walnut trees to a local sawmill," Greg Wagner with Nebraska Game and Parks said.

Wagner said the theft of black walnut trees is making its way across the Heartland.

"The black walnut theft problem has been widespread. It's mostly been big in Indiana, Illinois, it's been a big problem in Iowa of late, Missouri major problem. Now we're seeing it move west and north and it's a problem in Nebraska presently," he said.

According to Wagner, poachers can get around $600 for a large piece of a walnut tree. After the wood has been cut and dried, it's a rich, dark piece of wood that people want for furniture, flooring or cabinets.

"It's got a really rich grain. It's real dark. It's got superb workability, so it finishes nice," Dan Nye with Dan's Custom Sawmill said. "You can use it for virtually anything. Flooring, cabinetry, about whatever."

Nebraska Game and Parks officials have caught people stealing the trees in western Douglas County. That thief was cited and the landowner plans to press charges.

Wagner said people who live in rural areas should look out for each other to prevent the thefts.

"Form a community watch program, get to know your neighbors and their vehicles and find out who's going to be on a given piece of property in one day or tomorrow. Make sure you communicate with your neighbors. That's the big thing," he said.

Black walnut trees are valuable to woodland ecosystems. The nuts are eaten by mice, squirrels, raccoons and many species of birds.

"They can grow really big. They're a long-lived tree," Michelle Foss with Fontenelle Forest said. "They help provide shade in the summertime. They also provide a food source in the winter in the form of the walnuts."

Anyone who witnesses trespassing or theft should call 911 or Nebraska Wildlife Crime Stoppers at 1-800-742-7627.

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