Tree Poaching in the Northwest

October 17, 2013 § 1 Comment

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When we think of illegal tree harvesting we usually think of far away third world countries and their exotic woods. But sadly, a recent incident in the state of Washington reminds us that it can hit much closer to home. Several bigleaf maples were chopped down in a Washington State Park in order to pilfer some of the highly figured wood so often associated with these great trees. The trees were cut down, chopped up, and only a small portion of their trunks removed. Using an analogy from the animal world, it was the equivalent of slaughtering an elephant, cutting off the tusks, and then leaving the corpse to rot.

One of the biggest demands for figured maple is the guitar industry, where prized pieces are used in high-end instruments that can demand big money. When I look at all that goes into making a guitar, how much of the cost is the wood? How many board feet get used in the making of a guitar? Four or five total? Even at the most expensive $25-$30/board foot, we’re talking a couple hundred dollars of maple for an instrument that will potentially sell for thousands.

You can read about the theft here and here.

I won’t get into here the use of “rare” and “exotic” woods. Like many things, the discussion devolves into politics and quickly goes downhill. I will relate one story from my naive past. Several years ago I walked into a lumberyard, mainly to just look around, from what I remember. I saw all the usual native woods – oak, maple, cherry, walnut, as well as several foreign species I couldn’t pronounce (I only recently learned how Sapele was pronounced). I wasn’t familiar with the foreign trees so I spent more time looking at the native woods. I especially liked some oak in one of the bins, so I asked one of the workers what I though was a simple, legitimate question, “Where did those oak trees come from?”. As I said, I was naive and not intentionally being a smart-ass. The worker thought differently. I’ve since learned that in most lumberyards it’s useless to ask that question because they honestly don’t know the answer. When I can, I now like to buy wood from folks who can tell me where the trees were standing. Maybe it makes me weird, but that provenience means something to me. And if we read about more stories like this in our own backyard, maybe a polite question as to the source of the wood we are buying won’t be such an off-the-wall question.

A few well-regarded mail-order sources for bigleaf maple are Northwest Timber in Jefferson, Oregon and North Woods Figured Woods in Forest Grove, Oregon.


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