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Pine Straw Theft Prosecuted as a Felony in Hoke County

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RAEFORD — If you have a green thumb, chances are you use pine straw. Since it is a popular addition to most landscaping projects, pine straw is a frequent target of thieves.

Thieves are raking up on pine straw for good reason. It is a $50 million a year industry in North Carolina alone. People do not steal it from nurseries. They steal it from the forests.

Raking up pine straw and then selling it is big business. It is Hoke County resident Julian Johnson's main source of income.

Over the years, pine straw has been stolen off his family's 2,000 acres at least a dozen times. Once, he caught a couple of thieves sticky-handed.

Now, he and other landowners post signs and patrol their property by plane and car. Members of the Pine Needle Producers Association say the problem will not go away, but it is getting better.

"I think maybe people think twice before they commit a felony as opposed to a misdemeanor," said Johnson.

The charge became a felony two years ago. District Attorney Jean Powell is now prosecuting one of the first cases in Hoke County under the new law.

Overall, she says suspects are difficult to catch and even harder to prosecute.

"The straw itself cannot be identified by a landowner. It looks like any other straw and can't be traced back. We can't prove he stole this straw from this land," said Powell.

Even though many producers say the law is working as a deterrent, it is still estimated that 10 percent of all pine straw you buy from nurseries and home improvement stores is stolen.

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Melissa Buscher, Reporter
Michael Joyner, Photographer
John Clark, Web Editor

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