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Are your trees on thieves' "most wanted" list?

Tree theft – also known as timberjacking – is getting to be a hot topic. A few weeks ago in this column, I discussed how many landowners return home to find bare stumps where their valuable trees used to stand. It can be a very distressing experience, and in some cases can cause serious financial losses, too.

If you missed that column you can find it archived at my web site. Go to www.landsteward.org and click on "The Plant Man" where you'll find the column titled "Timberjackers might have their eyes on your valuable trees."

In this week's column, I'll take a look at some trees that seem to be most popular among tree thieves. I'll also have a tax tip that might help you recover some of your losses if you have been the victim of a timberjacker.

Tree thieves have no interest in how beautiful or aesthetically pleasing your tree is. They're only interested in how much a sawmill will pay them for the freshly cut trunk. Sawmills talk in terms of "dollars per board-foot" and pay higher prices for trees that, in turn, realize the best profits for them. Some examples:

Koa. This tree is found mainly in the Hawaiian Islands, although you might also see one at your favorite arboretum. Because of its exotic south-sea origins, it's unlikely that you will have to worry too much about losing a Koa. However, I'm including it here because it has one of the highest board-foot values of any American tree. The dark red wood was originally used for making canoes, but these days is more likely to be used in the crafting of ukeleles and ‘high-end' surfboards.

Black Walnut. One of my favorites, and proving increasingly popular with timberjackers, too. One reason: it has earned the nickname of "the money tree", because of its value to furniture makers. Over the past thirty years or so, the black walnut has once again achieved its former glory thanks to the development of genetically superior cultivars. Black walnut trees can be a remarkably good investment. I know folks who have plantations of black walnuts that they expect will provide for their retirement in a few years. You can find several articles and archived columns about black walnut trees at my website if this sounds like something you'd be interested in.

Sugar Maple. Sometimes known as Birds-eye maple or Acer Saccharum, the timber is often used for making picture frames. However, I like this tree because it's the perfect shade tree and looks great on a good sized lawn. That's why you can see them in municipal parks and on golf courses.

White Oak. Tree thieves love this one, too. I think the word to describe the white oak is ‘majestic', particularly when you see one that reaches a hundred or more feet from the ground.

So the question you might be asking yourself is this: "If these trees are popular with thieves, should I still consider including them in my landscape?"

My answer is emphatically "Yes!"

These trees are extremely beautiful and can add years of enjoyment to your land. Additionally, if you eventually decide to move on, mature trees like these can certainly add to the resale value. Furthermore, if you have some sizable acreage, a grove of Black Walnuts could be an excellent investment.

Yes, you DO need to be aware of the potential loss to timberjackers and take steps to prevent it. Again, you might want to refer back to my previous column on the subject. But don't let fear of theft prevent you from enjoying these spectacular wonders of nature.

However, you might want to make a note of this information in case you have been the victim of a tree thief. Were you aware that as a woodland owner, if part or all of your timber is stolen, you may be entitled to claim a deduction on your federal income tax return?

According to a report by the Extension Service of Ohio State University, the allowable deduction is the amount by which the cost basis of the timber exceeds any compensation received through insurance or salvage operations such as firewood sales, etc. The deduction is not the fair market value of the timber lost.

You can read the entire report at http://ohioline.osu.edu/for-fact/0031.html and there is a direct link from this column archived under "The Plant Man at my web site. By the way, losses are generally deductible in the year of discovery, and are reported on Form 4684.

Please drop me a line via e-mail if you are seeking any personal advice or suggestions!

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org often.

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