There are serious environmental impacts from illegal logging. There are also far-reaching social problems associated with unsustainable and illegal logging: Child and forced labor, abuse of indigenous land rights, and unsafe working conditions are not uncommon practices in the worldwide timber industry.
What is illegal logging?
Illegal logging violates international, national or regional laws. Illegal activities can include logging, transportation, purchase and sale of timber.
The timber felling itself may be illegal and can involve:
- Using corrupt means to gain access to forests;
- Extraction without permission or from a protected area;
- The cutting of protected species; or
- The extraction of timber in excess of agreed limits.
Illegalities may also occur during transport, processing and export, and include fraudulent declaration to customs, and the avoidance of taxes and other charges.
"Destructive but legal" logging
Legal logging does not necessarily mean ecologically or socially sustainable logging. Half of the world's forests have disappeared. Only 20 percent remain as relatively undisturbed and intact. This 20 percent contains the natural habitat of two-thirds of the Earth's known terrestrial species, and is the home for many indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities.
The world's remaining forests are disappearing at an alarming rate due to both legal and illegal logging. Every second, an area of forest equal to the area of the Orange Bowl stadium is destroyed - over 23 million acres a year.
Governments at every level urgently need to make a greater commitment to the protection and sustainable use of the the world's forests by passing and enforcing stricter forest protection laws.
A global problem
Some estimates suggest that the illegal timber trade may comprise over a tenth of the total global timber trade, worth more than $150 billion a year. Exact figures are difficult to obtain, given the illegal nature of the activity. Reliable estimates indicate that more than half of all logging activities in particularly vulnerable regions - the Amazon Basin, Central Africa, Southeast Asia, the Russian Federation - are illegal.
- A 1998 joint UK-Indonesian study of the timber industry in Indonesia estimated that about 40 percent of production was illegal, with a value in excess of $365 million. More recent estimates suggest that 88 percent of logging in the country is illegal in some way.
- In Brazil, 80 percent of logging in the Amazon violates government controls, At the core of illegal logging is widespread corruption. Often referred to as 'green gold', mahogany can fetch over US$1,600 m3. Illegal mahogany opens the door for illegal logging of other tree species, and for widespread exploitation of the Brazilian Amazon.
- The World Bank estimates that 80 percent of logging operations are illegal in Bolivia and 42 percent in Colombia, while in Peru, illegal logging equals 80 percent of all activities.
- Research carried out by WWF International in 2002 shows that in Africa, rates of illegal logging vary from 50 percent for Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea to 70 percent in Gabon and 80 percent in Liberia - where revenues from the timber industry also fueled the civil war.
There are several solutions to the problem of illegal logging. They include enforcement and creation of international and national laws, as well as independent timber certification companies that work with timber companies to assess and verify the legal, ecological and social sustainability of any timber operation and its wood products.
By exerting influence through the supply chain, governments have enormous power to encourage responsible forest management and reduce the demand for illegally sourced forest products. Government purchases account for a substantial proportion of world trade in timber products. In 2001, U.S. state and local government purchasing exceeded $1.22 trillion, more than 11 percent of the total U. S. gross domestic product.