Timber theft in Louisiana may seem like a pretty obscure legal issue, but it’s actually more common than you might think.
The U.S. Forest Service estimates that 10% of all trees cut down annually are actually stolen. And forestry makes up a significant part of Louisiana’s economy. It’s the second-largest manufacturing industry in the state, and forests make up about 48% of the state’s land area.
So whether you’re a small landowner or a commercial logger, timber theft is something you probably want to look out for.
Our team at the Jones Law Firm is here to tell you what Louisiana law has to say about timber theft– and what kind of damages you might be entitled to if someone cuts down your trees without your permission.
The Timber Theft Statute in Louisiana
The current law against timber theft in Louisiana dates back to 1974. Before then, if a landowner’s trees were stolen, they were only entitled to a modest amount of damages.
Since the passage of the 1974 Timber Theft Statute, however, a landowner whose trees have been stolen can now pursue punitive damages.
This means that the person who cut down the trees has to pay more than the value of the trees that they stole.
Since then, the law has been updated a number of times, most recently in 2019.
The current version of the statute
As of 2019, the Timber Theft Statute has this to say about timber theft:
It shall be unlawful for any person to cut, fell, destroy, remove, or to divert for sale or use, any trees, or to authorize or direct his agent or employee to cut, fell, destroy, remove, or to divert for sale or use, any trees, growing or lying on the land of another, without the consent of, or in accordance with the direction of, the owner or legal possessor, or in accordance with specific terms of a legal contract or agreement.
The person responsible is required to pay the following damages:
Whoever willfully and intentionally violates the provisions of Subsection A of this Section shall be liable to the owner, co-owner, co-heir, or legal possessor of the trees for civil damages in the amount of three times the fair market value of the trees cut, felled, destroyed, removed, or diverted, plus reasonable attorney fees and costs.
In summary, if someone intentionally steals trees from your land, the court can force them to pay three times the commercial value of the stolen timber, in addition to any attorney fees and court costs you incurred during the suit.
“Good faith” timber theft
However, the law doesn’t stop there. Sometimes trees might be cut down by mistake– what the law calls “in good faith.”
Maybe the person misinterpreted a contract they signed with you, or maybe they just cut down the wrong tree by mistake. Even so, they might still be liable according to the law:
Whoever violates the provisions of Subsection A of this Section in good faith shall be liable to the owner, co-owner, co-heir, or legal possessor of the trees for three times the fair market value of the trees cut, felled, destroyed, removed, or diverted, if circumstances prove that the violator should have been aware that his actions were without the consent or direction of the owner, co-owner, co-heir, or legal possessor of the trees.
So if you can prove that they had all the information they needed, a person acting in “good faith” can still be liable for three times the commercial value of the stolen timber.
The only difference is that they don’t have to pay for your attorney fees and court costs, unless they fail to make the initial payment.
Hire a timber theft attorney in Louisiana today
So if you woke up this morning to find tree stumps on your property that shouldn’t be there, don’t stress.
The Jones Law Firm is experienced in timber theft cases in Louisiana. Contact us today!