Tree Thieves: Crime and Survival in North America’s Woods

Little, Brown Spark. Jun. 2022. 288p. ISBN 9780316497442. $28. NAT HIST
Timber poaching could be judged simply: Stealing is wrong, and destroying protected national treasures and resources is even worse. But this book by British Columbia–based ecology writer Bourgon delves into the complexities of the illegal timber market in an evenhanded manner. Focusing primarily on forestry in the Pacific Northwest, the author explains how timber poaching—although difficult to prosecute—is an offense with significant long-term ramifications to the global economy and the well-being of all living creatures. At the same time, Bourgon’s interviews with poachers (and with police, former loggers, Indigenous communities, and international timber cartels) help readers to be sympathetic to the circumstances. The book is grounded in these interviews and research, but it also dips into narrative nonfiction that puts readers in the mindset of its subjects (e.g., the anxious moment of stumbling onto a recently abandoned poaching site). It might be hard to sell readers on the unsexy crime of stealing trees, but there’s much of interest in this book (high-tech efforts to catch poachers and identify stolen trees; the supply chain by which illegal timber from around the world finds its way into U.S. stores and homes). Note that the interviews include some heavy profanity.
VERDICT Fascinating for motivated readers.
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