Trees are fundamental to natural areas throughout Illinois: they provide wildlife habitat, prevent soil erosion, and filter water. They are the literal roots holding an ecosystem together. Despite these essential benefits provided by trees, perpetrators of illegal logging in conservation areas throughout the state get away without facing substantial consequences.
Amendments to the Illinois Wrongful Tree Cutting Act (HB5577) would allow a conservation or preservation property owner to be adequately compensated for all of the damage done to a natural area by illegal logging. The current law limits recovery for damages to three times the logged value of the trees and does not take into account other damages done to conservation and preservation properties when trees are cut unlawfully.
Cutting a tree or trees improperly can lead to soil erosion, spread of invasive species, damage to other flora and fauna - including endangered species - and other impacts to the surrounding natural area. The current law falls short of compensating for any of these losses because it only considers the stumpage value of the trees lost, which is not enough to allow the wronged land owners to clean up the mess left behind. To properly compensate the land trusts, conservation easement owners, forest preserves, park districts, and others that oversee natural areas, a change to the law is needed.
The proposed change to the Illinois Wrongful Tree Cutting Act would provide owners of conservation and preservation properties the funds necessary to remediate damages done to their properties, and serve as a deterrent to those who would knowingly and illegally cut trees in these protected areas.
In the fall of 2012, one of the Natural Land Institute’s protected sites (a National Heritage Landmark) suffered trespass and had 61 mature trees cut through unauthorized logging. The loggers left a dangerous mess of broken tree trunks, downed tree top debris and broken branches. Additional damage occurred to remaining trees, the understory, and ecological damage, including rutting, slope erosion, several areas of soil compaction, and invasive species colonization from equipment. The stumpage value of the trees as calculated under the Illinois Wrongful Tree Cutting Act was $55,285.95 but our experts determined that the trespassers’ action will require $438,880 in remediation costs to clean up and begin to restore the property. The consultant’s estimate of three-times stumpage value of $165,857.85 is significantly under the cost of site remediation and the lost functional value of the resource.
In 2013, a trespass incident occurred on one of Openlands’ conservation easements on a private property. Trees and shrubs were cut in an ecologically-sensitive portion of the easement prone to erosion and impacts from invasive species. A lawsuit is in litigation at this time. The estimated damages available under the Wrongful Tree Cutting Act encompass about 27% of the initial restoration estimate for the damaged area. Additionally, the Act does not take into account the loss of ecosystem integrity or the unknown time it will take for restored vegetation to reestablish in the damaged area.