ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Timber thieves, cattle rustlers and other criminals committed millions of dollars worth of agricultural crimes across Mississippi last year.
The state Department of Agriculture and Commerce recorded $2.4 million lost to crimes in fiscal 2009, which ended June 30. That covers everything from timber being illegally cut to cows being slain.
That number was down slightly from 2008, when the bureau recorded $2.6 million.
Equipment, livestock and timber make up the biggest portion of that amount, but the thefts include any type of crime related to agriculture, said Robert Jordan, director of the department’s Agricultural & Livestock Theft Bureau.
In 2009, equipment theft accounted for 64 percent, or $1.6 million, of the total. That included items stolen from both farms and dealers.
Timber crime was the second largest category, making up about 12 percent of the total, or about $292,000. Livestock accounted for 7 percent of the total and chemical theft made up just 1 percent. The rest, about 16 percent, were miscellaneous crimes that included things like arson and hay theft.
The state usually averages between $2 million to $3 million worth of agricultural crimes each year, Jordan said.
Timber theft is a growing problem in Mississippi. A great deal of timber acreage is estate land — inherited over generations and owned by as many as 30 relatives — that isn’t monitored, Jordan said. Sometimes years go by before anyone realizes the land has been illegally logged.
Starting July 1, a new Mississippi law will allow a six-year statute of limitations, rather than the current two years, for prosecutors to bring charges against someone suspected of stealing timber.
That will give absentee landowners a shot at recovering their lost investment once the crime has been discovered.
While theft is the major problem, not all of the crime falls into that category.
“Every year we have about 50 head of cattle killed — shot,” Jordan said. “Some of it during deer season when people are out with rifles. But a lot of it is just meanness.”
The agency investigated a crime earlier this year in which two 14-year-olds in south Mississippi were found guilty of killing six horses. There was no reason behind their action, Jordan said.