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March 1, 2017

Timber Buyers Barred from “Abusive and Deceptive” Conduct in Iowa Tree Harvests

Miller alleges Illinois and Iowa timber buying operations cheated and mistreated rural Iowa landowners, including elderly

DES MOINES – Two timber buying companies—one from Illinois and one from Iowa—must reform their business practices in Iowa, through a court-approved agreement with Attorney General Tom Miller. The agreement follows complaints from elderly rural property owners.

The agreement, through a consent judgment and injunction approved by Polk County District Court Judge Eliza Ovrom, resolves a consumer fraud investigation against Central Illinois Hardwood Inc., of Green Valley, IL, and Harvest Hardwood Inc., of Oskaloosa, Iowa. The consent judgment also names David Nash of Green Valley, owner of both companies; Richard Nash of Ramsey, Illinois; and Matt Groenendyk of Lovilia, Iowa, doing business as Buck Creek Timber and Veneer.

“We alleged that the defendants repeatedly took advantage of elderly rural property owners by underpaying for valuable walnut trees and other hardwoods, taking more trees than they were authorized to harvest, and leaving properties damaged and scarred,” Miller said. “This agreement will reform how these timber buyers do business, and put an end to abusive and deceptive practices,” he added. “We want to make sure Iowa landowners are treated fairly.”

The consent judgment requires the defendants to comply with the Iowa Door-to-Door Sales Act, which provides a three-day right to cancel an agreement entered into at the consumer’s home, and requires clear written notification of that right. The defendants also must use a written contract that clearly sets forth which trees will be harvested, how long it will take, and exactly how much the landowner will be paid—with at least half that amount paid to the landowner upfront.

Miller said that in investigating this case, it became clear that rural landowners with valuable timber too often agreed to loose harvesting arrangements that led to exploitation. Miller urges landowners approached by timber buyers to go slow and to protect their interests through written agreements and contracts.

Landowner Resources and Legal Protections Available
Several state agencies, including the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach, offer guidance to landowners who are considering selling timber:

The Iowa Waste and Trespass law (§658.4) requires anyone who willfully injures another’s trees to pay “treble” damages -- three times the amount of the actual damage sustained.

Tips for Landowners Considering Selling Trees

  • Don’t act in haste.  An unexpected and unsolicited offer of thousands of dollars for some trees may seem like a welcome windfall, but it may fall far short of the trees’ actual value.  Take the time to get other estimates, and confer with friends, family members, or other trusted advisors.
  • Research best practices in selling timber.  Carefully managed, periodic sales may be best for the timber stock, and may also maximize the landowner’s return.  Having hardwoods that can be harvested prudently over time has been compared to drawing on a retirement account.
  • Make sure someone wanting to buy your timber is properly bonded. Iowa law requires timber buyers to be bonded and file proof of the bond with the DNR’s Forestry Bureau.  But the maximum bond required is $15,000, which might not cover all losses a landowner might suffer.
  • Seek the advice of a DNR district forester, private sector consulting forester, university extension services, and other experts. As noted above, a lot of their guidance is available online.

For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Consumer Protection Division through the Attorney General’s website at www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov or email directly to consumer@ag.iowa.gov.  Consumers can also call the Consumer Protection Division at 515-281-5926, or outside the Des Moines area, toll free, at 888-777-4590.

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