'Bark bandits' on the rise in Choctaw County

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CHOCTAW COUNTY, Okla. (KXII) -- "Destruction of property, trespassing and then to destroy the tree, once you strip the bark 5 to 6 feet down as high as they can reach, I mean, the tree dies," said Choctaw County Sheriff Terry Park.

The Choctaw County Sheriff says though the circumstances are strange, tree stripping can land someone behind bars just like any other theft.

"People, if they don't own some land, they are supposed to get permission from the landowners to go out and cut the trees down and get the bark off of it," said Danny Rowland, a bark buyer and owner of Rowland's Botanicals in Arkansas.

Companies and small businesses buy dried bark of the Prickly Ash tree to sell to bigger companies to make medicine.

The Morton Arboretum Plant Clinic in Lisle, Illinois says this dates back to before this part of the U.S. was settled, but times have changed.

"I've had some of the landowners state they lost as many as 35 to 40 trees and their pricing them to us anywhere from $1000-$2500 a tree," said Park.

Landowners we talked to said it's a violation of their privacy and kills trees they eventually have to cut down themselves.

"Most people want it off of their land because it's got stickers on it, takes up vital acreage that they could use for something else," said Rowland.

The trees don't bear any fruit, but Park says that's not the point.

"It's not their property to take," said Park.

He says several people were arrested last year for tree stripping and received small fines and he's out to find whoever is doing it now.

"Anything is possible in this day and time, anything. From taking tree bark to stealing copper wire, I mean there's no end to what people will do to supply their drug habit," said Park.