Demand for Christmas wreaths has triggered a crime wave in the New England state of Maine.
Forest rangers are trying to tackle an epidemic of “tipping”, cutting off branches from evergreen fir trees and selling them to wreath makers.
During the festive season the overwhelming majority of houses in Maine will sport a wreath on the front door.
Such is the demand that selling branches has become a source of income in the poorest part of the state.
Vast swathes of Maine are turned over to evergreen forest, largely inhabited by moose and bear.
Tippers swap hints on social media, making the most of one of the state’s most abundant natural resources to provide much needed cash.
While some tippers operate with the permission of the landowner, others do not bother and are committing a crime.
A tipper can make 50 cents (32 pence) a pound selling the branches to wreath manufacturers.
One legal tipper, Dennis Figueroa, told the New York Times, that they can earn several hundred dollars a day from the branches.
Everett Kennedy, another legal tipper, has even used a drone to find a fresh source of supply.
Others are not so scrupulous with the branch rustlers start working in late November, lopping off branches from balsam fir trees.
Somebody with two prior theft convictions can face jail time if caught engaged in illegal tipping.
Last year forest rangers were able to seize 1,400 pounds of illegally rustled branches.
“Over 1,400 pounds in one seizure,” Courtney Hammond, a Maine Forest ranger, said: “Many of our seizures run from 400 to 600 to 700 pounds, but at 40 or 45 cents a pound, people can make very good money at it.”
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