Mosquito-borne viruses. Brain-eating amoebas. Extreme wildfires. A presidential nominee with fifth grade-level vocabulary skills.

We have a lot to be concerned about these days.

Now, it would appear that the origin of the oh-so-perfectly weathered barn wood found in remodeling projects and Etsy-procured decor items is the latest source of anxiety to add to the worry pot.

It’s yet one more nagging question to toss and turn over late into the night: was my reclaimed barn wood kitchen flooring sourced in a legitimate — and legal — manner? Or was it pilfered from a still-standing barn on a still-functioning farm and sold on the black market?

Aside from home remodelers and interior decorators striving to achieve an “authentic rusticity” through the use of salvaged wood, this quietly emerging rural crime mini-epidemic is also, of course, worrisome to actual farmers. Crop and livestock theft is one thing. But entire barns that go missing overnight?

How is that even possible?

This question was likely the first thing that went through the mind of Quebecois farmer Claude Villeneuve as he emerged from his home to survey potential damage following a destructive hailstorm that wreaked havoc across the bucolic Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region last week.

Reclaimed barn wood table As reported by the CBC, Villeneuve dodged a bullet (or a barrage of frozen rain pellets) and suffered minimal property damage during the storm. However, at some point before or immediately after the hail ceased, unknown persons descended on the farm and made off with not one but two of his barn's walls.

"I started to, like, laugh," Villeneuve told Radio-Canada of the startling discovery. "But my wife, she said 'We've had two walls stolen. That can't be.'"

As the CBC explains, in the months leading up to the brazen act of barn wood thievery, Villenuve had been approached by several individuals interested in acquiring his barn’s plank walls for resale on the design market.

However, Villenuve, who estimates the stolen wood to be valued at $2,000 (about $1,500 USD), politely turned down the offers given that he still actively uses the barn for hay storage. It’s unclear if Villenuve suspects that one of those same prospective buyers or someone else entirely — someone who has been quietly watching and waiting — of being behind the audacious crime. With two walls now missing, Villenuve may now be forced to tear down his barn.

Apparently, this bucolic stretch of Quebec is coveted for its salvaged barn wood where it sells for as much as $11 ($8.40 USD) per square foot. Speaking to the CBC, the owner of a local interior décor boutique describes it as being “really trendy” but also “very difficult to find.”

The planks of wooden barns have become a hot commodity in the antique and craft markets. Design magazines and websites are replete with suggestions about how to put reclaimed wood to good use, from headboards to tables to backsplash.

While reports of barn wood being lifted from farms aren't widespread, they are increasing in frequency. Outside of Quebec, stories of burgled barn wood — rural North America’s copper wire, apparently — have emerged from Arizona, Oregon, Iowa and Kentucky’s Bluegrass region where, in January 2015, three men were indicted in connection with a crime that involved the entire exterior of a barn being stripped of its wood over the course of two nights and then offloaded at a local architectural salvage store.

Kentucky, it would seem, is a hotbed of illegal barn wood poaching.

In early 2016, the Bowling Green Daily News reported on a rash of barn wood thefts in Hart, Barren and Warren counties. “It is important for all barn owners to check, but specifically those who don’t live on the property where the barn sits,” Stephen Harmon, a spokesman with the Warren County sheriff’s office, advised. “Engage neighbors and others who live in the area of your farm to report any suspicious activity.”

In neighboring Hardin County, crooks have dismantled not only barns but also smaller wooden outbuildings including sheds. Again, authorities have linked the thefts to the market for reclaimed wood, including “picture frames, different pieces of furniture” to quote Hardin County Sheriff John Ward.

It would seem that in some cases, the rightful owners of these farm buildings were no longer using them and planned to deconstruct the structures themselves and sell any salvageable wood elements. Someone else just beat them to the punch.

A massive part of the charm of furnishings and home décor crafted from reclaimed barn wood and other types of “vintage” lumber is that it possess a unique back story — a history that sometimes stretches back decades, even centuries. Sure, reclaimed wood décor has that desirable rustic-chic appeal, but it’s also an example of reuse at its finest — the creative repurposing of existing materials to serve an entirely new function instead of being hauled off to the landfill.

It's just a shame that in some cases that unique back story has been tainted with criminal trespassing and larceny.

Inset photo of reclaimed barn wood table: Lian Chang/flickr

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

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