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Christmas Tree Poachers Draw Ire of Forest Rangers

November 24, 1990

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Christmas tree rustling in national forests in southern California is one annual holiday season ritual that should be stopped, forest rangers say.

″A lot of people think that if I just take one, it’s not a problem,″ said Carla Van Dyne at the Tujunga district office of Angeles National Forest. ″Once they start cutting or even damage (the tree), it is going to die.″

U.S. Forest Service officials report problems with poachers taking trees without permits and outside designated areas at Los Padres, Angeles and San Bernardino national forests.

Tree thievery is especially serious in Southern California forests because there are relatively few evergreens to begin with. The trees are already harmed by disease, insects and smog, foresters said.

Nabbing the culprits can be tough. For example, only six federal employees keep watch over the 500,000-acre Mount Pinos reserve in the Los Padres National Forest in northern Ventura County. Officials estimate that thieves cut down and steal 20 to 30 fir and pine trees every year.

Don Trammell, a recreation and operations officer at Mount Pinos, said about two tree rustlers are caught each year.

The penalty for taking a tree is usually a $50 fine, but the penalty can be as heavy as a $5,000 fine and can include a one-year jail term.

Mount Pinos firefighter Jamie Moore said thieves have been known to climb tall firs and saw off the top half. The remainder of the tree usually dies because it is vulnerable to a species of wood-eating beetle, she said.

″What they are taking is not so much a commodity but something that is high in value in the recreational sense,″ Forest Service Officer John Kelly said.

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