How Does an 800-Year-Old Giant Tree Go Missing?

Illustration for article titled How Does an 800-Year-Old Giant Tree Go Missing?

Enterprising tree poachers have stolen a gold, er, woodmine of a target: an 800-year-old red cedar tree that's one of the largest in the Vancouver Island area. It's gone now and it was stolen under a two-part operation that's been underway for the past year.

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The tree stealing two-step scheme was a bold one: the tree was originally cut 80% through its nine-foot diamter trunk before the damage was discovered by park officials who deemed it unsafe to stay upright. Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park on Vancouver Island, where the tree was once located, decided to cut the tree down and then let it naturally decompose.

That's when phase two of the tree poaching plan came into effect, the suspected cutters of the tree supposedly came back after the tree had fallen and hauled out the giant tree piece by piece. It's unlikely that the park or the police will find the poachers (unless someone starts a massive firewood sale) but they surmise that the tree was stolen to make roof shingles. The poaching team had to have access to heavy duty equipment and big trucks because even "firewood salvagers in pickup trucks can't handle trees this size."

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But why steal a freaking tree? Sgt. Dave Voller explained to the Canadian Press what the poachers would be able to get for the 800-year-old bark:

"It's obviously much more gain than going out and taking a whole pile of firewood. A logging truck loaded with cedar would be worth thousands and thousands of dollars."

Solid haul you environment stealers. I imagine you hanging out and swapping stories with the bridge thieves. Check out the pictures of the stolen tree here. [Windsor Star via MSNBC]

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DISCUSSION

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This crime sounds bizarre, but it is increasingly common these days. The price of hardwood has steadily increased over the past few decades. However the prices for rare and unusual hardwood has skyrocketed. Lumber taken from wood burls, very old trees or exotic breeds is dramatically harder to come by than typical hardwood and gets rarer all the time. It may take hundreds of years for hardwood breeds to reach full size, but some of the deformities that are behind super-rare lumber only occur in one out of a hundred thousand trees. Often times even fewer. The luxury goods market has created huge demand for this type of wood. A simple cigar box or gun stock made with rare wood can sell for many thousands of dollars so the makers of these products will pay a serious premium for their materials. A single tree, as you can imagine, could produce hundreds of such luxury trinkets. We're talking major cash here.

I have first-hand experience with this market. My father and I recover naturally-fallen trees in Indiana on a hobbyist basis. We only take trees that have fallen in storms, been destroyed by insects/disease or other 'natural causes' type situations. Family, friends-of-friends and other acquaintances will call us in when they've had a very large tree fall on their property.

What you see in my image here [in case of nibbles: [i39.photobucket.com]] is quarter-sawn Red Oak from a tree we recovered and milled into lumber ourselves with a chainsaw-based portable sawmill. Ordinary Red Oak is nice lumber and sells for up to $10 a board-foot (read: a lot). However this particular tree had an unusual deformity which cause the spectacular 'tiger stripe' pattern seen in three of those four pieces. This makes the lumber FAR more valuable; easily quadrupling the price or even more. As beautiful as it is, this lumber is pretty far down on the totem-pole of exotic wood types. These are just a low-end example, the price for luxury wood goes spiraling upwards from this point.

Some wood is insanely valuable. The motivation for 'lumber poaching' definitely exists. It is incredible how audacious some of the thieves will be. Some lumber thieves will scope out rare trees standing on private property, even in highly residential neighborhoods. Then they wait for the family to go out of town. They'll immediately swoop in and pose as a "tree removal service" if any of the neighbors ask. They hack down the tree and quickly haul it away before anybody has the chance to catch on.

Its a damn shame, because these assholes specifically target the oldest, rarest and most spectacular trees for this scheme. Don't be surprised if you start hearing about it with increasing frequency.