Mossback has begged for some Old Testament-style whuppin's for timber thieves, like the one who cut a grove of 700-year-old cedars in Wenatchee National Forest. While harsh punishments are elusive – as are the tree pirates – concerns about timber theft are growing, according to a story in the Jan. 20 New York Times. The story begins with the tale of a Vermont farmer named Spaulding who lost 30 or so mature, syrup-producing maples on his property when a neighbor crossed over and cut them for wood. One characteristic of the latest brand of tree robbers: They prey on the elderly, absentee owners, and the public. According to the Times: Across the country, trees are disappearing in cases that are often small in scale but largely unsettling, probably prompted by the rise in timber value and the increase in worldwide demand for American hardwood – particularly from builders in Europe and China. The total value of the American log export market has more than doubled since 2000, industry experts said, and it continues to grow. In the United States, forests are not being illegally logged on a systemic scale, as is the case in countries like Indonesia, Malawi and Brazil, where unauthorized harvesting has led to serious deforestation and attendant environmental problems. Here, the issue is often scattered and intimate, and often affects homeowners, parks and public forests. Data on the phenomenon is not complete, so the scope of the problem is hard to quantify, as is whether timber thefts are truly growing overall, or whether it's simply public awareness that's increasing as perhaps more victims tend to be private property owners instead of the government which holds extensive tracts of forest, some of which is also being legally logged. Also, timber markets could be impacting different regions of the country in different ways. Reports the Times: Alberto Goetzl, a forest economist who is studying the extent of domestic illegal logging for a coming report, said that without data, it was hard to prove that tree thieves were more active now than in the past. He said the issue was probably cyclical, depending on pricing, and more of a local nuisance than anything. "Some people say it's worse out in the Pacific Northwest, others say Appalachia," Mr. Goetzl said. "We have not been able to determine whether it's any worse in one place or another. What we have learned is that the concern about timber theft is greater than I thought before I went into this." The price paid to loggers for timber varies from mill to mill, region to region, and is largely dependent on the quality and size of individual trees, and the global and domestic markets. Demand for softwoods of the Pacific Northwest like the Douglas fir, largely used in construction to frame houses, is in a slump right now because of the downturn in domestic housing starts. But the hardwoods – used for things like high-end finishes and furniture – are more coveted now than in recent years, particularly abroad. One top-quality black walnut tree in the Midwest, for instance, could be worth over $5,000. Of course, price slumps can also increase the number of trees that are cut as thieves need to log more in order to make money. And according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Anne Minden, a U.S. Forest Service criminal investigator, says that many timber thefts on Western Washington public forests are associated with meth addicts. One thing I can't help wondering is how many trees are being cut down unnecessarily in the greater Seattle area due to unscrupulous private operators who convince homeowners their trees are too old, diseased, or hazardous. Years ago, we documented this type of activity in a series of stories in Eastsideweek by Frank Parchman. I can't help but suspect that in the current climate – where people are increasingly encouraged to cut down their trees to reduce liability and risk, and where some of these trees, like hardwoods, could be in high demand – if it isn't tempting to scare property owners into over-cutting.