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Loggers steal valuable walnut trees in Wisconsin

  • Associated Press
  • April 29, 2014 - 10:40 AM

MADISON, Wis. — Loggers spurred by the high price of walnut wood have been illegally cutting down trees on private property in southern Wisconsin, a sheriff said.

Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden told Wisconsin State Journal (http://bit.ly/1ixFPik ) this week that landowners confronted loggers on their property in the Brodhead area earlier this month. The loggers claimed they thought they were on property owned by a neighbor who hired them.

"It's happening more and more," Spoden said. "They're coming in and cutting down trees on the boundaries of property. The owners, by the time they realize it, are out of luck."

One of those landowners was Brian Knudson, who said loggers cut down 12 to 20 trees on land owned by him and a neighbor. The loggers offered Knudson $1,000 per tree to keep quiet and not report the activity to law enforcement.

"You know it has to be a high-quality tree for them to make that kind of offer on the spot," Knudson said.

The price of walnut, a high-quality hardwood, has increased with demand worldwide and especially in China. With relatively few walnut trees left, a top-quality, 16-foot log that's 26 inches in diameter can bring in $3,000, according to information posted online by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

"If the market for walnut right now isn't at a record level, it's certainly at one of its peaks," said Brian Brookshire, the executive director of the American Walnut Manufacturers Association.

Scott Small, owner and president of the Rockbridge Sawmill in Richland Center, said most logs command lower prices that reflect their quality. He was dismayed to learn that some loggers were stealing wood.

"That's an image that doesn't help our industry," he said. "There used to be a lot of that going on, but then it became harder to do it because people were watching out for it more."

A timber theft conviction can carry a fine of up to $10,000 in Wisconsin.

© 2014 Star Tribune