Thieves in Washington state have found a new way to support their drug habit.
KOMO-TV reported Saturday that an unknown person or group in Mason County were hacking down 100-year-old majestic maple trees and stealing the inner wood from the heart of the trees at the Jarrell Cove State Park.
Twenty-one of the trees, some of up to 100 feet tall, were found chopped up into pieces on a remote part of the 89-acre park on Harstine Island.
Ranger Mischa Cowles said it appears the thieves are looking for high quality, two-foot sections of maple to make a quick buck.
Just like a fine wine, the aged wood from the center of decades-old maple trees can be used in the hand-making of instruments like violins and guitars.
Thieves can illegally sell one poached maple for thousands of dollars.
"Oftentimes it's used to support drug habits," says Mason County sheriff's deputy Jason Sisson.
He says he has seen the crime of wood poaching skyrocket, paralleling the rise of rural drug use.
"It's overall become a bigger money-maker for the bad guys and more dangerous for us," Sisson says.
The tree poaching has reportedly become so rampant that the sheriff's office now has a designated deputy who patrols the forest trying to prevent thieves from cutting down trees that have been growing for many decades.
Sisson says in many cases, tree poaching is considered a felony and a conviction can lead to jail time.