The Douglas County Forest has become a crime scene as thieves harvest birch saplings to smuggle out of the woods to sell for decorations.

Tips from area residents helped the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office catch one accused thief in the act.

Joshua Dewey-Dale Taylor, 27, of Solon Springs, was cited for cutting, harvesting and removing forest products without a permit and operating a motor vehicle on forestry land off a developed road or trail when Douglas County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jake Engelman observed him cutting birch illegally with an electric saw.

Taylor was caught in the middle of a more than 3,000-acre parcel of Douglas County-owned forest land in the town of Solon Springs.

PREVIOUSLY: Birch thieves leaving mark on Douglas County forests

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Engelman was on patrol April 13 investigating a birch theft complaint. He was driving on Burma Road, south of Leusman Road, in the town of Solon Springs because he was aware of a freshly cut pile of birch in the area and had been surveilling the area for some time.

Four years ago, the thefts were occurring throughout northern counties in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but the thefts were curbed in Douglas County after media brought attention to the issue, according to Jon Harris, Douglas County director of forestry and natural resources. He said there’s been an increase in the illegal activity in the last few months.

Engelman wrote in his report that he pulled his squad over on Burma Road and walked northwest on a logging access just north of the Gordon town line.

“I heard noises in the woods and observed a truck backed up into the woodline … about 100 yards off the logging road,” Engelman wrote. The sergeant said he recognized the truck as one he had surveilled that had numerous complaints and tips about hauling suspected stolen birch in the area.

“I suspected this individual of illegally cutting birch in 10 to 20 different locations,” Engelman wrote.

Engelman called for additional squads and moved closer to observe that Taylor cut numerous birch trees, trimmed them to length and hauled them toward his truck. Multiple piles of birch were stacked and prepared for transport, and Taylor reportedly cut other species to clear a path to load birch on the truck. When additional deputies arrived, Engelman approached Taylor to question what he was doing.

Taylor allegedly told Engelman he was “making a living,” according to the report. Taylor told the sergeant he was getting about $1.50 per stick for an 8-foot pole when he offloaded it in Springbrook in Washburn County.

Engelman stated 110 birch poles had been cut, which would have netted Taylor about $165.

However, the current retail rate from a local seller is $25 per stick, placing the value at $2,750, Engelman stated in his report.

The way the law is written, the fine isn’t enough to act as a deterrent, even when you can prove it, said Mark Liebaert, chairman of the Douglas County forestry committee.

Growing birch is something the county strives to do, but people come along and steal them, and the county loses the whole stand, Liebaert said.

"It's taken place on private land as well as county and state land," Liebaert said.

Taylor is scheduled for an initial appearance on the citations May 20.