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AGO 1951 No. 181 - November 29, 1951
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

LOGS ‑- OWNERSHIP OF UNBRANDED LOGS STRANDED UPON PRIVATE PROPERTY LOCATED UPON THE BANKS OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER AND ITS TRIBUTARIES

Unbranded logs stranded upon the banks of the Columbia River are not the property of the state.  They may be used by property owners for wood if of little or no value or treated as lost and found property.  Chapter 116, Laws of 1947 does not act to escheat such logs to the state.

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                                                               November 29, 1951

Honorable James E. Duree
Prosecuting Attorney
Pacific County
P.O. Box 552
Raymond, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 181

Dear Sir:

            Your letter of October 22, 1951, requests our opinion upon the following questions:

            "Do the unbranded logs that lie on the Washington side of the Columbia River and its tributaries belong to the State of Washington?

            "Can any land owner in the State of Washington with land abutting on the Columbia River or its tributaries, claim unbranded logs which are beached on his land, as salvage for himself or can such owner give those logs away to other people?

            "It would seem to me that under chapter 116, Laws of 1947, State of Washington, governing log patrols and stray logs, that since funds received from the sale of unbranded logs escheat to the State of Washington that ownership to such logs must be in the State of Washington and not in any abutting land owner on whom these logs happen to lodge."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            It is our conclusion that unbranded logs lying on the Washington side of the Columbia River and its tributaries do not belong to the State of Washington and that landowners abutting on such river or its tributaries may use such unbranded logs or dispose of them as wood unless of value, and in that case dispose of them as lost and found property subject to the limitations hereinafter discussed.

            We further conclude that chapter 116, Laws of 1947, the "log patrol statute," does not escheat the value of unbranded logs to the State of Washington when such logs are beached upon lands of private parties lying along the Columbia River or its tributaries.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            We have on several occasions in the past held that there was no law governing the ownership of so-called "flotsam and jetsam."  We have said that such property is governed ordinarily by the customs of the country, in the absence of law.  If such property is of value and its owner can identify it, then it belongs to the owner.  If the reverse is true, then the parties who catch and hold the property may take it and use it.  We enclose copies of our letters of December 29, 1933 and January 3, 1934 upon this subject.

            The opinions expressed in our letters regarding "flotsam and jetsam" might be amplified by consideration of the laws on lost and found property.  Under §§ 8430 to 8436, Rem. Rev. Stat., if goods of the value of ten dollars or more are found, then the procedure is for the finder to give notice of the same in the press.  A further requirement is set forth for appraisal by a justice of the peace and sale.  The real owner is given the right to recover the same within a period of one year upon the payment of a reasonable compensation to the finder.  If the owner does not appear within such year, the finder may keep one‑half the value of the property, transmitting the other half of the value to the treasurer of the county for school purposes.  The finder who does not comply with such statute is made liable for the full value of such goods for county school purposes and for the person who sues for recovery.

            While the above sections are taken from the Laws of 1854 as modified by the Laws of 1863, they are still in force and would apply to any lost property, including unbranded logs which were of the valuation expressed in the statutes unless covered by the "Log Patrol Act of 1947."

            The "Log Patrol Statute," chapter 116, Laws of 1947, applies only to licensed "log patrolmen"who do not operate on the Columbia River or its tributaries.  See § 1.  "Log Patrol" is defined in § 2 of said statute as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "(a) 'Log Patrol' shall include all activities in connection with the recapture, repossession and delivery to owners or to boom companies of stray logs in this state except activities by the owner of such logs, the transportation agency that towed or transported the booms or cargo from which such stray logs were lost, or any other duly constituted agent of the owner."

            We have held, in an opinion dated January 26, 1949, to Representative Ralph A. Smith [[Opinion No. 47-49-519]], that "log patrol" activities cannot be licensed or carried on upon the Columbia River and its tributaries under the provisions of the statute.

            The last matter to be discussed is the question of the possible escheat of such unmarked logs beached on the Columbia River or its tributaries to the State of Washington.  This question is of such importance that we will quote the whole of section 5, chapter 116, Laws of 1947, which deals with the matter:

            "(a) All stray logs, shall whenever practicable, be returned to the owner or his agent, otherwise be delivered to the nearest boom company, and the Log Patrol shall be entitled to a reasonable compensation for the recovery and return of such logs, and shall have all the rights incident to a logger's lien therefor:  Provided, That no Log Patrol shall take into possession any stray logs during the time that the owner, his agent, or the transportation agency which lost said stray logs, are attempting, or, are awaiting favorable weather conditions, to attempt to recover said stray logs.  The boom company upon receipt of such stray logs shall cause the same to be scaled by a log scaling bureau or by an individual log scaler whose regular and established business is that of scaling logs and thereafter sell such stray logs in the open market to the person making the highest offer and from the proceeds pay the Log Patrol for services performed.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            "(b) From such proceeds, the boom company shall deduct the usual and customary handling charges and pay to the owner the balance:  Provided, however, The net proceeds from unbranded stray logs, and branded stray logs the ownership of which can not be determined by existing records, shall be placed in a separate fund and escheat to the State of Washington and be remitted to the State Treasurer."

            It is perfectly apparent that § 5 (a) directs "log patrols" to return stray logs to their owners or agents or otherwise to deliver them to boom companies.  We have already said that such "log patrols" as licensed by the state cannot exist upon the Columbia River and its tributaries.  Part (b) of § 5, the proviso for escheat of unbranded stray logs, is applicable only to logs coming into the possession of boom companies.  The proviso would appear to have no application to a private owner of property not engaged in business as a "boom company" or "log patrolman" where his property lies along the bank of the Columbia River or its tributaries.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

DON CARY SMITH
Assistant Attorney General

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