This Solitary Tree
Today we write about the TREE and what happens if someone cuts down your trees.
Perhaps you own land which has but one tree. Or maybe your property is deeply covered with trees creating shade, a tree canopy delightful on those hot summer days. All yours to enjoy for as long as those trees are standing.
In the Hudson Valley in winter they stand bare as sentries watching the people pass by bundled. But as winter gives way to spring, then spring to summer and summer to fall, the trees of the Hudson Valley come alive. Small yellowish buds bloom into vivid green leaves that serve to remind us of the beauty of the countryside. In the fall, trees are alive with color, brilliant yellows, oranges and reds light up the landscape as nature continues the cycle of life for our trees.
Yet this is a blog on a lawfirm website, where the homepage incidentally is covered with trees, so you might be wondering if the law says anything about trees. The answer is yes, it most definitely does. The law recognized what a poet wrote about trees when he said: “This solitary Tree! A living thing produced too slowly ever to decay; Of form and aspect too magnificent to be destroyed.” Wordsworth, Yew Trees.
While you are free, if you so desire, to destroy each and every tree on your own land, cutting trees on the land of another, without their permission, is in violation of the law and can expose the violator to three times [treble] the amount of usual damages. In 2003, the Legislature recognized the significance of the state’s trees and forests, noting that 18.5 million acres is forestland in New York. The New York State Legislature enacted Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law §861, applicable to private and public property, which holds, among other things, that:
If any person, without the consent of the owner thereof, cuts, removes, injures or destroys, or causes to be cut, removed, injured or destroyed, any . . . tree or timber on the land of another . . . an action may be maintained against such person for treble the stumpage value of the tree or timber or two hundred fifty dollars per tree, or both and for any permanent and substantial damage caused to the land or the improvements thereon as a result of such violation.
This statute is, among its other purposes, to deter the unlawful taking of trees by increasing criminal and civil penalties. Disputes between parties under this law are not as rare as you might think. Often there are boundary line disputes associated with the cutting of trees. And treble damages is an unusual provision in NY law. Yet obtaining treble damages can be difficult. For one thing, if someone comes onto your property and, without your consent, starts to cut down your trees you may not know how many trees you had to begin with. Also, and associated with proving your case, you will often need the services of landscape expert or arborist [a tree expert] which can be expensive. Treble damages can be awarded unless the finder of fact, usually the jury, finds affirmatively that the injury was casual and involuntary or committed by a defendant who had probable cause to believe that the land was his/her own [RPAPL §861[a]].
If trees on your property are cut down by someone who does not have your permission to do so, stand up for your rights much as a mighty oak.