Is it permitted to collect and appropriate wood in forests?

Round wooden pile
Photo: BML / Bernhard Kern

Many people wonder why one needs to buy firewood even though fallen branches, other broken wood and wood residues from felling are available in forests.

Who do the trees and the wood belong to?

According to civil law (in particular § 405 of the Austrian General Civil Code, “ABGB“), the "fruits of the land", such as trees or wood, are in principle the property of the landowner.

Therefore, anyone gathering wood without the prior consent (authorisation) of the forest owner or any other person entitled to dispose of the wood must expect an action for trespass, damages or other consequences under civil law.

In this context it is irrelevant whether the wood fell unto the ground (was separated from the roots) due to natural forces (wind, snow etc.), is (residual) wood from the harvest, or is from standing timber.

In addition to these consequences under civil law, also a judicial or administrative penalty may be imposed (see below).

Collecting wood

The collection or appropriation of wood (also of wood picked up) requires the consent of the forest owner or other person holding timber exploitation rights.

Administrative offences

According to the Forest Act 1975 (§ 174 para. (3) point 3 or 4), anyone obtaining earth, turf or other soil constituents, or standing or harvested wood, in more than small quantities without authorisation or who damages standing trees, their roots or branches, fallen trunks, young trees or bushes, or removes them from their location, apart from individual branches without significant damage to the plant without authorisation, shall be punished by a fine of up to 730 or with arrest of up to one week.

Criminal Code
According to § 141 para. (4) of the Criminal Code ("theft"), the unlawful appropriation of soil products or soil constituents (such as tree fruits, forest products, wood picked up) of low value is not punishable by court.

If this value limit, which is set at 100 by current case law, is exceeded, the legal offence of theft as set out in § 141 of the Criminal Code (imprisonment for up to 1 month or a fine of up to 60 daily rates) would constitute a criminal offence punishable by court, unless a consent or authorisation of the forest owner or of any other person entitled to dispose has been obtained which precludes the unlawfulness.

Legal basis

  • Forest Act 1975, Federal Law Gazette No 440, as last amended by Federal Law Gazette I No 56/2016 "RIS"
  • Criminal Code, Federal Law Gazette No 60/1974, as last amended by Federal Law Gazette I No 130/2011

Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management
Directorate III 2 -  Forest Legislation, Legal Policy and Vocational Qualification
Marxergasse 2
1030 Vienna
Director Mag. Katharina Kaiser
Phone: +43 1 711 00 - 606681