PORTLAND (AP) – Timber theft remains a problem throughout Maine, but officials say a crackdown on tree thieves that began a decade ago has helped reduce the number of complaints.

“Select grades of wood have been targeted by a few for a long period of time,” said Jim Downie, spokesman for the Maine Forest Service. “Rangers spend a significant amount of time investigating timber trespass and theft complaints.”

A case is designated as a timber theft when someone intentionally cuts trees belonging to someone else.

Trespass cases arise when property lines are not clearly defined or the landowners have conflicting ideas about who holds title to a specific parcel.

The forest service has had some successful prosecutions in recent years, in both civil and criminal cases, Downie said. “Some cases have involved jail time and significant fines and restitution,” he said.

While theft cases have surfaced virtually everywhere in Maine, they are less prevalent in the vast unorganized territories where large land management and forest products companies keep closer watch on their holdings, Downie said.

Thieves can run the gamut from one person with a chain saw and pickup truck who cuts up the wood on site to loggers equipped with a skidder who can strip dozens of acres.

Some of the choicest stands targeted by thieves include oak and high-grade spruce and pine.

Downie said the state investigated about 1,000 timber theft and trespass complaints about a decade ago. Through stepped-up enforcement, he said, that number has been reduced by roughly half.

In recent years, judges have imposed jail terms of up to three months, with all but 30 days suspended. In addition, he said, most cases involve fines and restitution.

“Our biggest goal here is to try to get some restitution and resolve the issue for the innocent landowner who is the victim,” Downie said. “You’re never going to get the wood back, but someone profited from the thefts, so we want to be sure we get some restitution and some fines as well.”

AP-ES-05-17-03 1033EDT