Conservation news

U.S. lumber company found importing high-risk Peruvian timber

Experts fear that international markets will close their doors to Peru due to illegal timber. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Research Agency (EIA).

Experts fear that international markets will close their doors to Peru due to illegal timber. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Research Agency (EIA).

  • An investigation by Timberleaks has found that New Orleans, Louisiana-based Robinson Lumber Company has a history of importing high-risk timber from a major Peruvian exporter.
  • According to international regulatory standards, high-risk timber imports are more likely to have been illegally harvested.
  • Maderera Bozovich was Peru’s largest timber exporter by value from 2010-2017, but has a history of allegations of illegal sourcing.
  • Robinson has publicly said it will look into the allegations.

An investigation by illegal-logging watchdog Timberleaks has found that a New Orleans-based lumber company is importing high-risk timber from Peru.

Robinson Lumber Company is named as a major customer of Maderera Bozovich, a notorious timber supplier that is Peru’s leading timber exporter, having shipped more than $103 million worth of products from 2010-2017, according to investigative news platform Ojo Público.

Robinson is a fifth-generation family business headquartered by the Mississippi River near the Port of New Orleans, with five offices in Central and South America, as well as a sales office in Europe.

The website also describes the firm’s environmental commitments as a member of the International Wood Products Association and a party to the Appalachian Hardwood Verified Legal program and the Forest Stewardship Council.

Accordingly, Robinson “follows a clear environmental policy for the purchase of tropical wood and wood products. We believe in our responsibility and are committed to basing our commercial activities on sound principles of proper forest management. These principles have been outlined by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), which we fully support.”

Wood cut from the Ucayali River in Peru. Photo by Toby Smith / EIA.

The ITTO’s objectives include providing a framework for international cooperation and policy development regarding the world timber economy and contributing to the process of sustainable development.

Nonetheless, a 2018 Environmental Investigation Agency report features data from Lima’s Callao port showing that in 2015, Robinson Lumber Company received 22 forest transport permits (GTFs). Of these, the EIA considered 18 to be high risk, the most out of the 26 U.S. companies included in the data. Maderera Bozovich, meanwhile, had 22 export GTSs from Callao that year, eight of which were high risk.

More recently, Timberleaks found that in October 2019, Robinson accepted five shipments from Maderera Bozovich equal to more than 5,800 square meters (63,000 square feet) of flooring. This is not to say that Robinson is intentionally sourcing potentially illegal timber, as its Peruvian supplier touts its responsible and sustainable forest management practices.

However, Maderera Bozovich has been frequently named in investigations into fraudulent forest management and timber export practices, and also faces legal challenges from environmental groups in both Peru and the United States.

When Timberleaks took its research to Robinson, a representative said the company had created an internal working group to evaluate the information. Robinson Lumber did not respond to requests for comment from Mongabay.

To import timber and other wood products, U.S. companies must follow regulations set by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service under the Department of Agriculture. An import permit must first be approved, which takes roughly 30 days, though the inspection service is more focused on keeping pests and diseases from entering the country.

A 2012 photo of a sawmill that processes cedar and other woods from the Loreto Forest. Photo by Toby Smith / EIA.

Importers of trees and lumber must also fill out a detailed declaration form stating the scientific names of the included species, the country of origin, and more. Endangered wood — which is relevant to shipments from Peru, given the country’s extensive rainforest — is covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

CITES rules stipulate that an importer must have a certificate issued by a CITES representative indicating the source country and that no laws were broken during the harvest of the timber.

U.S. importers must also follow the Lacey Act, the 1900 law that bans trafficking in illegal wildlife, including tree species. In the U.S. legal system, “due care” is the legal concept under which companies must do everything in their power to determine that their imported products are legal.

Banner image: Experts fear that international markets will close their doors to Peru due to illegal timber. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Research Agency (EIA).