Lufkin, Texas (KETK) – Some people call East Texas the Pine Curtain.

For more than a century the logging industry has staked its claim in the Piney Woods.

“It’s such a money-maker for a lot of industries and loggers especially. Anything that involves money, there’s going to be theft,” said Dennis Cochran, an investigator with the Texas A&M Forest Service.

In Cochran’s time as an investigator he’s seen enough cases to know timber theft comes in all forms, and is more than making a quick buck.

“It can range from a few thousand dollars to a few 100,000 or even more, there’s a lot to be gained,” he said.

The thieves work in various ways. Sometimes they cut over the property line into neighboring land.

“It’s not always malicious,” said Jon Mastin, wood procurement manager at Angelina Forest Products. “What landowners can do to help protect themselves is to get a legal survey and have their boundary lines maintained and very visible. Sometimes the loggers just don’t see the line and cut over.”

Other times thievery is blatant.

“What we call absentee landowners, if somebody lives out of town and has property these guys will find out one way or another and harvest that property without the landowner ever knowing,” said Cochran.

Sometimes they’re more sophisticated.

“They enter into a legal contract with a landowner and either harvest the timber and may not report all the timber they harvested off the property,” said Cochran.

This was the case with Michaelene Baker from Leon County.

“I have 240 acres that’s never been, not in my lifetime, ever been touched, it’s got a lot of wildlife in it,” said Michaelene Baker from Leon County. “I let myself fall for two guys that were well-dressed driving well-maintained vehicles and he said ‘oh you have all this timber here.'”

What happened next was 45 days of showmanship, cutting and dishonesty.

“I had signed a contract where good logs were $1,600 and pulpwood was $600,” said Baker. “Only one load had gone out as logs, the rest of it was pulpwood. They had taken out, well I guess, close two $11,000 worth.”

While Baker was still paid the thieves lied about what they took and cut more than they agreed on.

The Texas natural resource code is on the books to stop the stealing.

When the product gets to the sawmill everything is done to ensure the logger is being honest.

“There’s what we call a trip ticket that specifies the landowner, the purchaser, the seller and some other information,” said Mastin. We will verify that on the ground through spot-checks with out foresters.”

Both Matsin and Cochran had a list of ways to ensure you don’t become a victim:

  • Visit your property frequently.
  • Have someone you know and trust report any cutting on your land immediately.
  • Never sign a contract without checking several references of the buyer.
  • For the best price, insist on getting bids for your timber.
  • Mark all property lines to assure cutting on adjacent property does not encroach on yours.
  • Utilize trail/deer cameras on your property that can record suspicious activity or individuals.

Vigilance is key to preventing these types of thefts, never be afraid to report suspicious activity to law-enforcement.