One-hundred-and-ninety-seven illegal loggers across a dozen Central and South American countries have been arrested during INTERPOL’s first strike against widespread forestry crime. INTERPOL, or The International Criminal Police Organization, worked with local police forces to take a first crack at illegal logging. In all the effort, known as Operation Lead, resulted in the seizure of 50,000 cubic meters of wood worth around $8 million.
“Operation Lead marks the beginning of INTERPOL’s effort to assist its member countries to combat illegal logging and forestry crime, which affects not only the health, security and quality of life of local forest-dependent communities, but also causes significant costs to governments in terms of lost economic revenue,” David Higgins, Programme Manager of the Environmental Crime Programme at INTERPOL said.
The global illegal logging trade has been estimated to be worth $30-$100 billion each year and is thought to account for 15-30 percent of all deforestation in the tropics. The destruction of forests threatens global biodiversity, watersheds, and releases greenhouse gases; in addition it often robs local communities and indigenous peoples of the forests they depend on. Illegal logging kingpins are also often involved in other crimes, such as human trafficking, weapons sales, drugs, and political corruption.
“This is a major development in the fight against illegal logging, which is a much bigger global problem than most of us realize,” said Billy Kyte with Global Witness, an NGO that looks at the link between environmental and human rights abuses. “Local people often get the blame, but they are usually not the real problem. Much more damage is done by big companies connected to business, political and criminal elites, who systematically skirt laws and regulations in order to destroy forests at an industrial scale.”
Illegal loggers were arrested in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.
Laws are toughening against illegal logging around the world. Both the U.S. and Australia have recently implemented laws banning the importation of materials made from illegally logged wood. In the U.S., the law resulted in a high-profile case against Gibson Guitars, which ended in the music company paying a $350,000 fine and forfeiting $250,000 worth of items. Similar legislation is expected to go into effect for the EU this year as well. If law enforcement efforts scale up, many illegal loggers may find that the black-market trade is no longer worth the risk.
(02/11/2013) In Belize, the uncontrolled and often illegal harvesting of rosewood has been, and still is, one of the major environmental issues in the country. In March of last year, the government established a moratorium on the export and extraction of rosewood, however illegal harvesting continued. On Friday 11 January, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development made the bold move of burning confiscated illegally cut rosewood flitches.
(02/07/2013) Forty-eight percent of the timber making its way from Mozambique’s forests to Chinese companies was harvested illegally, according to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which blames the problem on widespread corruption and poor governance. The illegal logging cost Mozambique, the world’s fourth least-developed country in the world according to the UN, $29 million in tax revenue, says the report.
(02/06/2013) Located in a mountainous area near the border with Guatemala, Cusuco National Park in Honduras is recognized by researchers as a critical refuge for endangered amphibians in a country that has suffered from widespread deforestation. But while the park largely escaped the devastation that has affected other protected areas in Honduras, the situation seems to be changing: since 2010 there has been a sharp increase in deforestation. Poachers, small farmers, and cattle ranchers are moving into the park using a network of research trails and camps established by Operation Wallacea, a British conservation science NGO.
(01/24/2013) Illegal loggers beware: trees will soon be calling—literally—for backup. The Brazilian government has begun fixing trees with a wireless device, known as Invisible Tracck, which will allow trees to contact authorities after being felled and moved.
(12/06/2012) According to Filipino officials, rampant illegal logging and mining were likely a part of the cause for the high casualty count from Category 5 Typhoon Bopha (Pablo), especially in the Compostela Valley where government officials had warned people to stop the illegal activities. So far, 370 people have been found dead on the island of Mindanao with another 400 missing. Waters rose so high even emergency shelters were inundated.
(11/29/2012) Runaway economic growth comes with costs: in the case of China’s economic engine, one of them has been the world’s forests. According to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), China has become the number one importer of illegal wood products from around the world. Illegal logging—which threatens biodiversity, emits carbon, impoverishes local communities, and is often coupled with other crimes—has come under heavy pressure in recent years from the U.S., the EU, and Australia. Each of these has implemented, or will soon implement, new laws that make importing and selling illegal wood products domestic crimes. However, China’s unwillingness to tackle its vast appetite for illegal timber means the trade continues to decimate forests worldwide.
(11/21/2012) In another blow to illegal loggers, Australia has passed the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill, joining the U.S. in outlawing the importation of illegal logged timber from abroad. The new legislation makes it a criminal offense for Australian businesses to import timber from illegal operations. The Australian government estimates that $400 million worth of illegal timber products are sold in the country each year often as outdoor furniture and wood for decks
(11/08/2012) In 2002 the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) announced a moratorium on commercial logging in a bid to save rapidly falling forests, however a new report by Global Witness alleges that industrial loggers are finding a way around the logging freeze. Through unscrupulous officials, foreign companies are abusing artisanal permits—meant for local community logging—to clear-cut wide swathes of tropical forest in the country. These logging companies are often targeting an endangered tree—wenge (Millettia laurentii)—largely for buyers in China and Europe.