VANCOUVER - When an old-growth maple tree falls in the majestic woods of British Columbia's Burnaby Mountain, does it make a sound?

Yes . . . but only once it's been transformed into a guitar.

Poachers have chopped down five trees and slashed at least 25 more within the mountain's conservation area in search of a specific grain used in high-end guitars.

"It just makes you sick," said Henry deJong, a design technician for Burnaby Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services.

"It's frustrating to walk into a pristine area and you expect to enjoy the flora and fauna and you find these giants cut down. Some of them are not even reaching half their lifespan."

Const. Kevin Hamilton with the RCMP's three-man Forest Crime Investigation Unit says those taking the wood are looking for a grain commonly known as curly maple.

"They're looking for compression marks within the wood, commonly used for manufacturing musical instruments," he said.

"These trees with these compression marks, once they're sanded and finished they have a beautiful marble look that's very esthetically pleasing."

Hamilton said the wood is also renowned for its acoustic features.

Police and park staff believe those doing the tree poaching are entering the remote areas armed with chainsaws.

"It seems that these thieves have kind of zeroed in on these isolated areas where they know that they're not going to be seen. They'll go in secretly and start cutting the trees down once they find what they want," deJong said.

But finding what they want isn't all that easy.

"They'll typically cut a chunk of bark off at the trunk of the tree," Hamilton said. "You can feel a rippling effect on the cambian layer. That's the wet, whitish layer just under the bark."

Only 10 per cent of the maple trees have this characteristic. And of those that do, just five to 10 per cent of the tree gets used.

But even trees that just get slashed and don't get chopped down aren't out of the woods.

"If they've poked the holes in it and haven't found what they're looking for, the tree will then be susceptible to infection, like fungus and insect infestation," Hamilton said.

The wood is typically chopped into pieces about 60 centimetres in length and 15 to 20 centimetres in width.

Hamilton said a block can fetch between 20 and 200 dollars at sawmills.

The tree poaching investigation is being led by Burnaby RCMP and the detachment's Cpl. Jane Baptista says those involved face potential jail terms of six months and a $2,000 fine.

"There is some danger. One of the trees that was cut down actually covered a fire rescue route," she said.

Baptista conceded that those doing the poaching won't be easy to catch.

Hamilton said much the same, stressing the reliance on tips from not only the public but also those running sawmills.

"A good analogy I use is it's very similar to the salvagers who take in the stolen metal. We try to enforce it in the same manner. We rely upon the integrity of the mills and the public," he said.

DeJong just wants to make sure the ancient trees are protected.

"It seems like the poachers are getting more brazen all the time."