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Timber Trespass Resolved in Five Months without Litigation

July 15, 2011 | Washington, D.C.
Timber Trespass Resolved in Five Months without Litigation

Board advisor, Ric Finch, makes notes at the site of suspected timber removal on protected land in Putnam County, Tennessee, February 2011

Days after the annual monitoring of Osborn Preserve, now owned by Putnam County, TN, a neighbor’s timber crew cut many valuable trees on the property, prompting a concerned citizen to notify the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation. Their volunteers returned immediately to assess the damage, and acted fast to resolve the dispute.

Based on the volunteers’ findings, the Foundation notified the county; the county then hired a surveyor to ascertain and re-mark the critical portion of the boundary. That boundary encompasses land that sprawls across steep hillsides, minutes from Cookeville, TN (pop. 30435), and protects a gift of 92 diversely wooded acres above Cleghorn Creek, part of the Cumberland River watershed that is one of the most diverse temperate freshwater ecosystems in the world.

The Merle Osborn Nature Preserve is named for a Pennsylvania native who fell in love with a Tennessee girl, and the area where she grew up.  After the couple retired to Tennessee, Ruth Osborn decided to honor her husband, now deceased, with a permanent tribute to his love of nature.

The surveyor determined that trees had indeed been cut on the Osborn Preserve. The Foundation then spoke with the neighbor about the trespass.  Nora Beck, Land Conservation Coordinator for the Foundation, reflected, “The neighbor swore he directed the timber crew correctly and showed them the boundary line. The county’s hiring a surveyor gave us the professional evidence so it was tough for the landowner to argue with it.” Luckily, under Tennessee law, if a timber crew accidently removes timber from land not owned by the individual who hires the crew, the landowner is responsible for reimbursing the owner of the affected land in double damages; treble if it is intentional.

The county hired a certified forester to determine the market value of the removed timber, based on diameter of stumps and other evidence at the scene. Using his findings and those of the surveyor, the county and the Foundation sent the neighboring landowner a letter on county stationery, over the signatures of both the county attorney and the Foundation’s director, advising that he should make good on the value of the timber plus expenses. The neighbor did not contest the demand given the surveyor’s evidence and the immediate action that the Foundation took. Ultimately the neighbor paid the county for damages and expenses. The county then cut a check for the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation for the organization’s time and effort in resolving this violation.  

This exceptionally diligent land trust didn’t stop there however. They contacted the USDA Forester, as well as the Natural Resource Conservation Service field office representative, to double check their responsibilities in assisting the county in repairing the damaged land. In the course of the follow up work to ensure that the conservation values of the property were preserved and that every step necessary to avoid infiltration of invasives in the cut area was taken, it was discovered that the neighbor was also mining rocks on his land, upslope from the Preserve, without a proper permit. The upslope mining also caused concern for run off and other potential damage on the Preserve. Government officials took the next enforcement steps on the mining without a permit.

As a further step to use this experience as an opportunity, the Foundation sent all conservation landowners materials furnished by the area USDA forester, on how to deal with and prevent timber violations on their land.

Beck recounted the Foundation’s success, “We have several conservation efforts going on in this region and wanted to avoid litigation, which could have a negative impact on our work. We took every action imaginable to cover all our bases. Baseline documentation and having a violation procedure in place proved absolutely critical to this process. Moreover, acting quickly and respectfully contributed greatly to the rapid and successful dissipation of this situation.” Beck reported that the Foundation received their check in early June, six short months after the violation occurred and conversation defense efforts commenced. Congratulations to the Foundation for a successful, speedy and smooth dispute resolution!

Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation

The Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundationwas established in 1998, merging the Tennessee State Parks Foundation and the Tennessee Greenways Program of the Conservation Fund. In its commitment to conserve Tennessee’s land and waters, three strategies guide its efforts: conserving Tennessee’s natural resources, creating greenway corridor connections, and fostering conservation education initiatives. For more information about this violation please contact Land Conservation Coordinator Nora Beck at

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