This is the second part of a two-part Planet Money newsletter on the struggles of a former logging town named Orick. The tale of a distressed American town can be found here.

Ranger jumped into their cars on the morning of March 27th after putting on their bulletproof vests. The house they were going to in Orick, California was the same town where the park headquarters are located. They pulled up to the house with their weapons. They yelled they had a search warrant and were holding guns.

One of the residents opened the door. There was a shed in the backyard where two of them went. They were ready to shoot when they entered the shed and found their suspect. Hughes said that he would have to pay if he was shot.

Hughes was taken into custody by the park rangers. They found brass knuckles, a handgun, a camera, a plastic bag, and meth pipes when they searched the premises. The rangers were not present for that. They were still looking for what they wanted. They found it scattered along a fence and in a woodworking shop.

People think of park rangers when they think of nature guides. The park rangers have become an anti-poaching police squad because of their mission to protect old-growth redwood trees. The investigations could be episodes of a TV show. Think of a show about a forest.

A new book by a writer and a National Geographic Explorer explores the criminal world of tree theft. It's called Tree Thieves: Crime and Survival in North America's Woods, and it looks at conflicts between people in the southern part of the country.

Burl Poaching

The former logging town of Orick is similar to other rural towns and inner cities hit by the atomic bomb of deindustrialization. Man made structures are damaged by light. Unemployment and poverty are high. Drugs, alcohol, and crime have become a way of life for people.

In her book, Bourgon examines the crime around Orick. Over the last 10 years, Orick residents have been caught illegally harvesting a part of the trees.

Burls are bumps on trees that are covered in bark. Bourgon says that they form after a tree experiences distress. Maybe it's a lightning strike or a fire. The tree kind of directs all of its resources into healing that area, creating a burl that holds a lot of genetic DNA. A lot of genetic material can be found in a burl.

Burls are important to the health of trees, but they are also financially valuable. Bourgon says that the piece of wood is very easy to carve. There's not a lot of knots or blemish in it. People transform them into objects. They have been used in foreign goods.

They say that money doesn't grow on trees but on other things. Stephen Troy says it's quick money. According to Troy, they've discovered that the burl heists can be quickly sold to local people. Troy says that they have found illegal wood in storefronts in Orick, as well as Crescent City, to the north.

The industry around Orick is still worth a lot of money. There are shops on Highway 101 that sell sculptures, furniture, and trinkets made out of wood. It's a way to make money. The products are of the highest quality. Some of the wood may be illegally taken from old-growth redwood trees in national and state parks.

Poachers use chainsaws to get into the woods at night. When it's less likely for people to catch them, they usually do it during storms. They saw off a lot of trees, opening them up to infections and possibly threatening their ability to stand. The ability of a tree to reproduce if it is lost is a protectionary reproductive measure.

Around 15 years ago, articles about the illegal activity at the parks started to appear. The problem back then was the theft of dead logs. "Although thieves haven't started chopping down live trees, authorities worry that will become an issue as the number of easily stolen logs dwindles," the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2006

"Poaching downed trees is still a serious problem for the ecological health of the forest," said the deputy superintendent of the national and state parks. The problem has gotten worse over time. Poachers have been hacking off trees in the parks since at least 2012 in their quest for burlwood. Dozens of sites have been found by park officials. Ranger Troy thinks that is just the beginning.

The obliteration of the coastal redwood forest is the latest chapter in a centuries-long story. Almost all of the old-growth redwoods have been cut down. Only 4% of them remain. The park has become a target due to the fact that 40 percent of the trees are protected. The trees can be as old as 2,000 years old, so it's not easy to replace them.

The park has invested in various technologies to fight forest crime. This technology helped to catch the person who was responsible for the deaths of two people. The park Ranger suspected that the poacher would return to the same area after he stumbled across the secretive site. The cameras were hidden in the forest. A month later, the Ranger analyzed the footage and identified a suspect who they thought was Hughes. The footage helped the rangers get a search warrant for his house.

Hughes was sentenced to felony vandalising. He had to complete 400 hours of community service and pay a $1,200 fine after being sentenced to two years of deferred prosecution. Hughes can't go to the national and state parks.

Rumble In The Woods

The creation, expansion, and subsequent management of the national park has long been seen as the cause of Orick residents' immiseration. The past tension was about the park's prevention of logging, which used to be the region's main source of income.

In the early 2010s, Redwood National and State Parks began ramping up their law enforcement efforts. This one-of-a-kind ancient redwood forest is one of the most important parts of their mission.

The national park can sound like a foreign occupying force to some people. Bourgon says the park's rangers will pull people over if they suspect they are carrying illegal wood or breaking the law. The Save The Redwoods League, an environmental group that has spent more than a century protecting redwoods, is partnering with the park to offer a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of anyone who is involved in the illegal ivory trade.

In an area that has been affected by the work of the Save The Redwoods League, you can imagine how that might be perceived.

Bourgon believes that tree plucking is the result of desperation. Orick has been stuck in a downward spiral since the collapse of the logging industry. As more and more tourists came to the area, officials told Orick that the park would flourish. What could it not do? Next to the parks is where it is. Despite its prime real estate and the flow of tourist traffic through the area, Orick has failed to take advantage of its location.

"Orick's reputation for drugs and unkempt property deters anyone who might want to invest in making it a permanent home or a place where tourists might want to stay." A lack of public investment in infrastructure and upkeep is a big part of the problem according to the executive director of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission.

Bourgon thinks that more locals should be hired by the national and state parks to help ease community tensions and give more opportunities to the area. Gates said park jobs are open to everyone. We don't have any control over whether or not our local community members apply for these positions.

The problems created by deindustrialization have been paid more attention to by economists. After a place loses its main source of income, residents don't just move to other places for better opportunities, as was thought to be the case. Many stay and suffer as their hometowns fall. Some turn to criminal activity in desperation. In former coal-mining towns, inner cities, and places that lost manufacturing after Chinese-made goods flooded America, we've seen stories like this many times.

In order to help distressed places get out of their economic rut, economists and policymakers have been using place-based policies. If there was ever a place that smart policies could help turn around, Orick is it. It wouldn't just be the community that would benefit from good jobs and an incentive not to sneak into the parks at night, the redwoods would be more likely to flourish if the community had good jobs and an incentive not to sneak into the parks at night.