WVFA Fall 2018

I N D U S T R Y N E W S 8 West Virginia Forestry Association Mountain State Forestry  | Fall 2018 www.wvfa.org IT’S 12:30 A.M. The unexpected ringing of his cellphone startles Forestry Investigator Don Kelley from slumber. Bad news: a young child has wandered away from his home. Officer Kelley and his partner are being requested by local law-enforcement agencies to respond to the last known sighting of the missing 2-year-old child. Without hesitation, Kelley stumbles out of bed, loads his K-9 partner into his vehicle and heads to the scene. Investigator Kelley knows that it is likely going to be a long night since he will remain on the scene with K-9 Raisy until the child is rescued and returned home safely. This is just one example of the many ways that the Division of Forestry assists other law-enforcement agencies to protect our children and keep our communities safe. Since dogs and humans have been working together for centuries to solve crime, the concept of utilizing K-9 officers is not new to American law-enforcement agencies. However, it is somewhat new to the Division of Forestry. After being appointed by Governor Jim Justice to lead the Division, I quickly began evaluating the programs under its purview. While reviewing the K-9 program, I found that even though our K-9 officers and their handlers go above and beyond the call of duty, there is just not enough of them to cover the needs of West Virginia landowners or provide much- needed assistance to other law-enforcement agencies. It is no secret that the price of timber is on the rise. West Virginia, the third most forested state in the country, is positioned to reap the benefits of the economic boost associated with higher timber prices. Unfortunately, higher timber prices also come with pitfalls. Specifically, the Division has seen an increase in the number of reported crimes related to timber theft. Late last year, Cabwaylingo State Forest, a state- owned property, suffered a loss of nearly $10,000, after timber thieves cut down 10 valuable walnut trees and removed the logs for their own personal gain. The state not only lost the 10 walnut trees, but was left with several other damaged trees and forced to bear the investigative costs associated with bringing the thieves to justice. Although Forestry Investigator John Bird, with assistance from local law-enforcement agencies, arrested several people in connection with the theft, it is unlikely that the residents of West Virginia will ever recoup the costs of such a loss. I often hear people say it is not a big deal if someone cuts down a few trees or if a couple of kids accidently start a fire while playing in the woods. I can assure you: it is a big deal. These are not victimless crimes. Someone’s property has been damaged and devalued. Sometimes it is private landowners, sometimes it is taxpayers that suffer the loss. Timber is a serious business so it’s imperative that we return to a time when crimes against property are treated seriously. Over the next few months, I am committed to expanding the Division’s resources through its newly established Special Operations Unit. This new Unit will be equipped with expert forestry investigators and certified K-9 officers available to assist property owners with services that protect his or her property from theft, fire damage, or bad logging practices. While maintaining the Division’s reputation as an assistance- oriented agency rather than an enforcement-oriented agency is of the utmost importance to me, I can assure you that we will continue to seek justice for West Virginia landowners by holding any person who willfully violates, or refuses to comply with, applicable state laws accountable for their actions—especially when their actions result in damage to our beautiful state.  Special Operations Unit Sniffs Out Suspects By Barry L. Cook Director/State Forester West Virginia Division of Forestry