VFA Virginia Forests Winter 2023

22 VIRGINIA FORESTS Many r e ad e r s o f Tr e e T h i e v e s : C r i m e a n d Survival in North America’s Woods might f ind it a deeply thought-provoking read that would make one invigorated on saving some of the Earth’s oldest living species and be angered at those wanting to “steal” them or cut them (or parts of them) down. But, of course, it’s more complicated than that. The largest percentage of this story was set in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), mostly focusing on redwoods and even more speci f ical ly on Redwoods National and State Park. The book begins with a general overview of the natural history of coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), the logging history of the PNW and the subsequent creation of the national park. Bourgon explores the history of the timber wars and the endangered Northern Spotted owl which effectually halted all commercial harvesting in many areas of the PNW during the rise of the environmental movement. Toward the end of the story the author does expand somewhat into other areas of the PNW, primarily Washington State and Vancouver, Canada to discuss other tree species that are illegally harvested such as Douglas fir, red and yellow cedar and maples. She even ventures into other areas of the world such as Amazonia. The book begins with burl theft. Burls are growths that some trees produce that can help them regrow following damage. Coast redwoods have some beautiful burls, which woodworkers use to make into bowls, tables, and other beautiful creations. However, many burls grow on old-growth trees, which are mostly protected in parks. Burl thieves work at night and go into the forests and cut these off the trees. Sometimes, whole trees are felled to get the burls, which can grow 100 feet or more up the trunk of an ancient redwood. Bourgon also interviews several peopl e who were caught and convicted of wood theft. Their reasons are mostly economic. Many of the small rural communities around the parks are economically depressed following the timber boom. There is no old-growth left to cut, and the second-growth forests are not logged at the rates of the previous century. There are few jobs for folks who still live in these small communities, and most of the work in the park tourist industry is seasonal and mostly during summer. Drugs and crime are a big problem in these communities, as with other socioeconomically depressed areas throughout the country, and timber theft is one of these crimes. Tree theft in relation to this book is complex, and Bourgon does an excellent job showcasing multiple sides by interviewing people in each group involved, and she demonstrates that the morality and ethics of timber theft is not as simple as you might think. Toward the end of the book, Bourgon goes on to show the other places where wood theft is a problem. There is a black market for many types of wood. Organizations like the World Bank and Interpol have estimated that the global scale of illegal logging generates somewhere between $51 billion and $157 billion annually. Thirty percent of the world’s wood trade is illegal, and an estimated 80 percent of all Amazonian wood harvested today is poached, as well as: Music wood from maples, Curly redwood for dashboards in cars, and many other types of wood from tropical places that is prized by woodworkers. Personally, one of the most interesting things I learned from this book is about the genetics lab in Oregon that uses genetics to help find out where particular wood came from. This lab can determine where a particular piece of wood came from across the globe and whether it was harvested legally or not. This is an easy read and through the authors narrative storytelling, readers learn the background of why people turn to theft of wood to make a living. I would recommend this book if you are interested in forests, environmental issues and politics, or just want an interesting read but would encourage those more knowledgeable in forestry and logging to keep an open mind. BOOK REVIEW Tree Thieves Crime and Survival in North America’s Woods Written by Lyndsie Bourgon Reviewed by Justin Barnes, Magazine Editorial Committee