04 June 2005

New WA Law Defining "Specialty Wood" Poses a Hassle to Woodturners

I heard about this woodpoaching problem at the woodturning club meeting Thursday night.

Officials hope a new law taking effect July 1 will help curtail illegal tree harvesters.

The measure requires a permit for transporting "specialty wood," which includes logs of less than 8 feet, free of knots, which can be turned into musical instruments or ornamental boxes.

To read the text of bill 1406, which was passed unanimously by both houses of the Washington State legislature, follow this link. Enter "1406" in the "Search Bills" box, check the box for "Bills 2005-06" and hit the Search button. (I couldn't get a permalink link to point to the actual bill.)

The law is scheduled to take effect July 24, 2005.
It's actually an amended version of the existing law regarding harvesting, sale, and transport of specialty forest products in general, such as cedar boughs, cascara bark, etc. It is the newly added definition of "specialty wood" that has the potential to pose serious hassles to woodturners.

The law requires that the person harvesting, possessing, transporting, or selling such specialty wood must have a permit signed by the original owner of the land where the wood is harvested or salvaged, by the person if not the owner who first harvests or buys the wood, and signed by the local county sheriff's office prior to collecting such wood!

It is in the law's definition of specialty wood that the problem lies for woodturners like myself.
"Specialty wood" means wood that is:
(a) In logs less than eight feet in length, chunks, slabs, stumps, or burls; and
(b) One or more of the following:
(i) Of the species western red cedar, Englemann spruce, Sitka spruce, big leaf maple, or western red alder;
(ii) Without knots in a portion of the surface area at least twenty-one inches long and seven and a quarter inches wide when measured from the outer surface toward the center; or
(iii) Suitable for the purposes of making musical instruments or ornamental boxes.

That little word "or" between sub-paragraphs (ii) and (iii) is the real kicker. As a woodturner, I can make a really pretty ornamental box from a chunk of spalted big-leaf maple two inches on a side or less! If a friend in Vancouver offers me a piece of firewood that they split from the red alder that blew down in their yard, and I take it home to make a wooden flute, I would be in violation of this law if I didn't first trot over to the Clark County Sheriff's office to get the requisite paperwork processed!

I belong to Northwest Woodturners down in Portland. It's usual at club meetings for people to bring in chunks of figured wood (burls, spalted or cury maple, etc.) for the raffle. Sometimes it came from a tree in their own yard, but more often a relative or friend had a nuisance tree taken down, or offered them wood from a windfall. Some of it is green, some of it has been in their shop for years.

Depending upon the species, many of these pieces would qualify as "specialty wood" under this new law. Does this mean I need to have the requisite paperwork to bring this stuff home from a monthly meeting, even though the wood comes from Oregon originally? (The law includes sections on transporting qualifying material into and out of the state.) What if I'm the one transporting a hunk of alder from my own shop in WA to the meeting? I have several hundred pounds of red alder that I salvaged from my old property after the 2004 ice storm. How do I prove ownership of that wood now if I take it anywhere?

I sympathize with the landowners and public officials who have had valuable trees stolen from their property. But this new law, by targeting the small stuff, could make wood acquisition and exchange even among hobbyist turners into a legal morass of paperwork and aggravation.

The most ironic aspect is that, based on the definition I quoted above, all a tree thief has to do is cut the pieces 97" long, load them on the truck, and drive off with impunity.


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