With Christmas just over a month off, the season is well under way for producing wreaths that will decorate doors and otherwise brighten up the holiday.
So is the time for illegal tipping — unlawfully removing the tips or boughs from balsam fir trees, the material that is used to make the holiday wreaths.
Balsam fir trees are ubiquitous in Washington County, home to such large wreath companies as Whitney Wreath and Worcester Wreath Co. as well as smaller wreath businesses.
Rangers with the Maine Forest Service have been responding to complaints daily from landowners in Washington and Hancock counties about people who are tipping on their land without permission, ranger Ryan Maker said Tuesday. The agency receives up to five or six complaints daily, depending on the weather.
The forest rangers are now patrolling to protect landowners from illegal tipping activity.
“Right now is our busiest time,” said Maker, since wreath season is under way. “It’s a daily occurrence right now,” he said, referring to the patrols.
On Sunday, Maker and another forest ranger charged four men — three from Lubec and one from Perry — with cutting Christmas trees or boughs without permission in Whiting. They were issued summonses for the misdemeanor offense.
The forest rangers recovered 1,411 pounds of boughs valued at about $500, according to Maker. The boughs were scattered in the woods, and the men were in the process of transporting them out, he said.
The forest rangers were on routine patrol at the time, “and what’s when we ran into these individuals,” Maker said.
The men were on private land, had no permission to be there, and were tipping without permission, Maker said.
A first offense typically draws a $250 fine, according to Maker.
A hard-working person can earn between $150-$200 per day from tipping, Maker said. “It’s a big economy and a big business. … We’re just trying to make sure people are doing it the right way and make sure the landowners are protected.”
The forest rangers checked on a number of other people who were engaged in tipping the same day, said Maker. “Nine out of 10 people have permits and are happy to see us,” he said.
Another summons for the same offense was issued to a person in Beddington on Tuesday, Maker reported .
The tipping season generally begins around Nov. 1 and goes through the first two weeks of December, noted Maker. Some tippers sell boughs to large wreath businesses and others use the material to make and sell their own wreaths.
To report illegal tipping activity, call the Maine Forest Service dispatcher center at 827-1800.