Tree theft lands man in prison

By Tim Colliver - [email protected]

When it comes to the term “poaching,” what usually comes to mind is illegal hunting and trafficking in ivory tusks or exotic animals.

But the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Forestry and Division of Parks and Watercraft said that a Ross County man was convicted and sent to jail recently for a different kind of poaching — illegally cutting timber for profit from a pair of state forests.

Robert Silcott, 42, Londonderry, was sentenced in May after confessing and pleading guilty to two counts of theft, two counts of vandalism and one count of criminal mischief in connection with timber thefts from Tar Hollow and Scioto Trail state forests, and from several private properties in the area.

Silcott was sentenced in Ross County Common Pleas Court to 16 months in jail and ordered to pay nearly $5,000 in restitution.

ODNR officers also seized equipment used during the thefts, including chainsaws, trailers and winching equipment.

The agency reported that in 2016, a logger from Vinton County was convicted and later sentenced to four years in prison for stealing $2 million worth of timber from a property near Grove City, just south of Columbus.

Reuben Raber, of Raber Wood Products on SR 138 between Hillsboro and Greenfield, told The Times-Gazette that one black walnut log measuring four feet in diameter and 25 feet in length could be worth more than $10,000, depending on how straight it was and whether it could be veneered or not.

Even it couldn’t be cut for veneer, he said the log would still be worth in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $7,000.

“These trees represented long-term investments the citizens have made in sustainable forest conservation and wildlife habitat,” said Dan Balser, chief of the Division of Forestry. “State forests exist for the public good and should not be exploited by criminals. I hope this conviction will deter future timber theft in any of Ohio’s forests.”

ODNR personnel discovered thefts at Tar Hollow State Forest last December, with additional thefts discovered in Scioto Trail State Forest and private properties in Ross County over the next few months.

In all cases, the valuable bottom section of the tree was missing.

ODNR foresters and natural resource officers analyzed the stumps to track down delivery locations and retrieved sales documents.

They said the thefts totaled 10 trees that were mostly black walnut and white oak with a standing timber value of nearly $4,000. They said similar trees are frequent targets of theft due to their high value.

Greg Guess, program administrator for the ODNR Division of Forestry, said that forests cover about a third of the state, and private individuals own about 86 percent of that land.

Natural resources officers advised that landowners with timber should take precautions to secure their property and protect their trees by painting ownership boundaries and conducting regular property inspections.

They also encouraged quick reporting of suspected thefts to local authorities.

Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.

By Tim Colliver

[email protected]