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Hawkins: More info on Tennessee timber laws

dfox • Nov 19, 2015 at 6:00 PM

“Born on a mountain top in Tennessee,

The greenest state in the land of the free;

Raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree…”

~ from “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” broadcast by ABC on Dec. 15, 1954 

Ol’ Davy knew that trees are essential parts of our environment and our economy. Tennessee has various laws regarding trees and their value. 

Q. Do a property owner and a timber cutter need a written bill of sale?

Yes. A written and signed timber sale contract helps take care of legal issues and prevent miscommunications. 

The University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture has a statewide outreach program called the UT Extension. There is a free sample timber sale contract online at utextension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/pb1607.pdf

Q. What happens when timber is cut without a landowner’s permission?

Intentional timber cutting without permission may be timber theft, which is a felony if the timber value exceeds $500. 

If the facts instead suggest timber theft, the landowner should:

(1) Record the date, time and location of the activity and take pictures or video of the evidence of theft; 

(2) Refrain from personally confronting suspected timber thieves; and 

(2) Report the incident and present the evidences of theft to the sheriff’s department. 

Q. Does Tennessee law allow civil damages for unauthorized timber cutting?

Yes. If timber has been cut accidentally or negligently, such as due to a boundary line mistake, then the timber cutter is civilly liable to the landowner for double the fair market value of the timber, plus any other property damages.   

If timber has been cut knowingly and intentionally from another’s property, then the liability is triple the fair market value of the timber, plus any other property damages. A timber thief can be criminally prosecuted and can also be sued civilly for damages.  

Private consulting foresters can help landowners take measurements and estimate fair market value of lost timber. Names of consulting foresters are available from the UT Extension Forester at (865) 974-7126, and from the Tennessee Division of Forestry at (615) 837-5411.

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