Illegally logged tree in Indonesia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Illegal logging has never been a high priority for criminal investigators, but a new report by the World Bank says it should be. Worldwide, the illegal logging epidemic is decimating natural resources, imperiling biodiversity, emitting carbon, and undercutting the livelihoods of local and indigenous people. But the lucrative funds from these ill-gotten gains is just as problematic: top organized criminals rake in $10-15 billion annually from illegal logging and largely use the funds to drive corruption.
“We need to fight organized crime in illegal logging the way we go after gangsters selling drugs or racketeering,” said Jean Pesme, Manager of the World Bank Financial Market Integrity team, that drew up the report entitled Justice for Forests: Improving Criminal Justice Efforts to Combat Illegal Logging.
According to the World Bank, illegal logging drives deforestation of a football-field sized forest every two seconds. The criminal practice is so rife in some countries that 90 percent of their deforestation is due to illegal logging; such figures means many forest-rich, but economically poor nations, lose both their natural resources and any chance to gain income through taxation from unscrupulous logging.
Rainforest timber in a port in Gabon. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
To date, illegal logging has been largely combated with preventative measures, but the report says these alone have failed to stem the tide. Instead, preventative measures must be complemented with a new push to investigate, prosecute, and convict top level criminals and enablers.
“Large-scale illegal [logging] operations are carried out by sophisticated criminal networks, and law enforcement actions need to be focused on the ‘masterminds’ behind these networks—and the high level corrupt officials who enable and protect them,” according to the report, which argues that instead of focusing solely on those people actually cutting the trees— many of which are compelled by poverty—one should follow the money trail up.
Recommendations for law officials include developing a domestic criminal justice strategy on illegal logging, improving cooperation between nations, working with the privates sector and NGOs, and linking criminal justice improvements as a part of development packages. Strategies such as surveillance, witness protection, and undercover operations should be employed by law officials on the ground. In addition, one of the best ways to catch high-level criminals is to focus on money laundering.
“The criminal justice system should form an integral part of any balanced and organized strategy for fighting forest crime,” the report reads.
The report also compliments the U.S. for its 2008 bipartisan amendment to the Lacey Act, which combats illegal logging abroad by banning the importation of illegally logged wood products into the country.
“Other countries should pass similar domestic legislation, criminalizing the importation of illegal timber and plugging an important gap in international law,” the report reads.
The Lacey Act, however, has recently come under fire from Tea Party groups and anti-regulatory politicians in the U.S. due to an investigation of instrument company Gibson Guitars, which may have violated the act by allegedly importing illegally logged wood products from Madagascar and unmilled wood from India. Still, the Lacey Act has been pointed to as one important factor behind a recent dip of illegal logging worldwide.
The EU is currently considering legislation similar to the U.S. Lacey Act.
(03/01/2012) A year-long undercover investigation has found evidence of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) companies cutting and pulping legally protected ramin trees, a practice that violates both Indonesian and international law. Found largely in Sumatra’s peatswamp forests, the logging of ramin trees (in the genus Gonystylus) has been banned in Indonesia since 2001; the trees are also listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and thus require special permits to export. The new allegations come after APP, an umbrella paper brand, has lost several customers due to its continued reliance on pulp from rainforest and peatland forests in Sumatra.
(03/01/2012) A new report by Greenpeace has found a direct link between National Geographic Society (NGS) products and rainforest destruction in Indonesia that threatens tigers and orangutans. An analysis on National Geographic books found Sumatran rainforest fiber from Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), a brand whose suppliers have been linked to rainforest destruction in Sumatra, and, in the most recent Greenpeace report, alleged illegal logging of protected rainforest trees. One of the world’s largest non-profit science and educational organizations, National Geographic is known worldwide for its magazines, documentaries, and award-winning photos. The organization also has a long-standing history of championing environmental and conservation issues. However, National Geographic says it has not sourced APP paper for “several years.”
(03/01/2012) Madagascar’s transitional government lifted its ban on exports of rosewood, ebony and other precious wood last month, but the decision is now under review due to concerns about foreign dominance of the trade, say local sources. Environmentalists are nonetheless concerned that a loosening of restrictions on old-growth timber could ignite another logging frenzy in the country’s rainforest parks, which are renowned for their biodiversity.
(02/27/2012) Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej urged the Thai government to punish officials who allowed illegal logging which he blamed for worsening floods last year that left more than 1,000 people dead.
(02/16/2012) In order to save its remaining forests, Thailand must list rosewood under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) this year, according to a new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). Illegal logging and smuggling of rosewood is being driven by increasing demand in China for rosewood, which is used to produce high-end luxury furniture known as “Hongmu.”
(02/09/2012) Australia should join the widening effort to stamp out illegal logging, according to testimony given this week by tropical ecologist William Laurance with James Cook University. Presenting before the Australian Senate’s rural affairs committee, Laurance argued that the massive environmental and economic costs of illegal logging worldwide should press Australia to tighten regulations against importing illegally logged timber at home.