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Eye On Olympia

Timber owners are getting played…

Speaking of wood, thieves are apparently descending on the state's forests -- public and private -- and stealing prime wood to make musical instruments.

The pictures would make any deer or elk hunter cringe -- large trees felled and left to rot, with the thieves just taking a few slices of the finest-grained wood from the base. Knot-free Engelmann spruce, western red cedar, big leaf maple and western red alder are all popular, either for the hard backs or resonating fronts of instruments like guitars, violins and mandolins. A small "blank" for a guitar neck -- a three-foot board, basically -- can sell for more than $100.

So an unusual alliance of rural conservatives, urban liberals and farm-district lawmakers say it's time to treat such wood like a game animal: give it a tag. For a seller to possess or transport such high-grade "specialty woods," they'd need a permit, validated by the local sheriff's office.

Even private landowners harvesting large amounts of their own high-grade wood would need to provide the paperwork to anyone buying it. Independent cutters on private or state property would need the permit to prove that they're harvesting legally, with the owner's permission.

"My private property owners and your public lands are being stripped of this wood by people who aren't paying for it," Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce, told a House committee last week.

Anyone caught with a stolen haul of specialty wood would see their vehicle and equipment seized, as well as being fined.

"We don't want people to be able to say `well, this is just firewood,' which is what they can do now," said forester Barry Wikene.

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