The Fuerza Pública reported Friday that it is battling what appears to be an organized effort to take protected trees from public and private lands. The police agency said that 26 persons were detained from January through September in cases of wood theft. Some 21 of the suspects were caught in the act, police said.
There does not seem to be a serious penalty for trying to steal the wood, which is very expensive overseas.
Of those detained, 19 were able to enter into a conciliation with officials, one was found innocent and one received 20 days in jail.
But even the convicted individual went free because the sentence was converted to conditional execution, basically probation.
Police think there is an organized crime syndicate to ship the wood to Asia because there are similar cases of wood thefts in Panamá and México, they said.
Police said they had confiscated 300 illegal logs. In one case illegal loggers engaged police is a brief firefight.
Police said that a cubic meter of cocobolo, the most valuable of the protected trees, can bring $2,500 overseas. In addition to cocobolo, the other trees sought by thieves include cedro, cenízaro, guanacaste, laurel, pochote and teca.
Tree thieves were reported to be using mufflers on their chainsaws so that owners of private land did not know they were stealing trees. In some cases, logs are cut into smaller pieces so they could be transported in car trunks, police said.
The bulk of the tree thefts are in Guanacaste province with the canton of Santa Cruz at the top of the list, police said.