A Beattyville man will pay a $500 fine after pleading guilty this week to stripping the bark off elm trees in the Daniel Boone National Forest.
James L. McIntosh, 32, pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Lexington to “removing forest products.” Magistrate Judge Robert Wier sentenced McIntosh to two years probation. A subsequent offense could result in more serious penalties.
Elm bark has a number of medicinal uses, including a remedy for diarrhea, and can be used as an astringent applied to wounds. Strippers sell the bark for commercial buyers of plants and roots, such as those who purchase ginseng.
McIntosh could not be reached for comment, but his attorney, Mary Ann Leichty, said he indicated “that there are markets for selling” the bark.
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The bark might be good for people, but removing it isn’t good for trees, which will die, Lexington arborist Dave Leonard said.
“Stripping bark, they were doing that a couple of years ago in the national forest really bad,” Leonard said. The bark is more easily removed in the spring, but in the fall it is “tightly adhered” to the trunk, he said.
In court records, officer Hershel Neal with the U.S. Forest Service said he had received a complaint about trees that had been stripped in the Chestnut Stand area north of Irvine in Estill County. While checking on the complaint on May 20, Neal came upon a blue Ford pickup truck parked on the side of a road.
“Across the road I saw several elm trees that had the bark stripped from them,” Neal wrote in a statement of probable cause.
About 10 minutes later, Neal came upon McIntosh and asked if he had stripped the trees. McIntosh said he had, and he had three trash bags containing bark.
“I located seven elm trees that had been stripped and two elm trees that had been damaged” in attempts to strip them, Neal wrote.
The next day, May 21, Neal returned to the area and found a backpack and a small cooler. The backpack contained rolls of black garbage bags and snacks, and the cooler contained bottles of water and soda.
“During the check of the area I found four more areas that had a total of 56 elm trees stripped or damaged,” Neal wrote.
McIntosh later told Neal that the cooler and backpack did belong to him, but he denied stripping those other trees.
There have been other reports of bark stripping in Kentucky in recent years.
In 2012, five people were arrested in Lewis County for stripping bark in the Little Cabin Creek area. They were charged with theft and trespassing.
In April, the Kentucky Department of Highways District 10 office in Jackson reported an increasing number of elm trees along state rights of way that had been stripped. A number of trees along Ky. 550 east of Hindman in Knott County were stripped last year.
When the trees die, they are susceptible to falling into the road and causing a hazard to motorists.