JONESBORO — During the past two weeks, the Maine Forest Service has confiscated more than a ton of illegally harvested wreath fir tips and has charged 12 people from Washington and Hancock counties with violations of the Christmas tree laws.
District Forest Ranger Doug Getchell of Jonesboro said the MFS receives dozens of complaints each week from concerned landowners who believe harvesting is taking place without their permission. MSF officials said they have also received several complaints from tippers who, while picking brush and loading it on their pickup trucks, have lost many pounds to thieves passing by.
If proper tipping techniques are used, little or no harm will come to the trees, Getchell said. However, substantial damage can be done if too many tips are taken, eventually producing a lesser-quality stand of timber.
“We strongly urge anyone collecting tips to first obtain written landowner permission,” the ranger said.
Forest rangers from outside the Down East area have been temporarily reassigned to assist with enforcement efforts. “Should a person not be able to produce written landowner permission, or a bill of sale, then the tips are seized and held until proper ownership has been established,” Getchell said. The criminal penalties can run from a fine to imprisonment or both, depending upon the amount of brush taken.
Landowners may also seek to recover civil damages. When the products are being transported, the driver must produce proof of ownership or a bill of sale at the request of a ranger.
Getchell anticipates that tipping activities will increase even more in the next few weeks as colder weather continues to “set” the needlelike leaves in branches of fir trees.
Anyone with questions concerning wreath tipping and Christmas tree laws should call the Forest Information Center in Augusta at 1-800-367-0223 or the Forest Service Headquarters in Jonesboro at 434-2621.