French illegal timber imports driving gorillas to extinction

Feature story - 15 December, 2005
We don't believe gorillas and forest people should be made homeless by the European construction and furniture industries. That's why we dumped three tonnes of tropical timber in front of France's Agricultural Ministry, crushing fake gorillas, to demand action against the flood of illegal timber from Africa's last ancient forests.

Soon Africa's gorillas will only survive in wildlife parks and zoos if the current forest destruction isn't halted.

The African Forest of the Great Apes, a spectacular lowland rainforestof Central Africa, stretches across regions of Cameroon, the CentralAfrican Republic, Congo Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo,Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. It is second in size only to the Amazonrainforest and is the most species-rich place in Africa.

Africa has already lost two-thirds of its ancient forests in the lastthirty years, industrial logging threatens most of what remains. In aslittle as five to ten years Africa's apes, the gorillas, chimpanzeesand bonobos, will disappear with the last undisturbed forest areas. 

European-owned timber companies are complicit in that destruction, as revealed in a new Greenpeace Report. And France, by accepting timber from illegal and destructive sources,is also jeopardizing the development of legitimate trade in legal andenvironmentally and socially responsible timber.

In 2004 France was the largest market in the EU for imports of Africantropical hardwood primary products -- a market valued at E256 million.France imports timber and timber products from countries, such asCongo Brazzaville, Cameroon, Gabon, Ivory Coast and the DemocraticRepublic of Congo, where corruption is rampant and illegal logging is aserious problem.

One example of how this trade operates in Cameroon is the use ofsuspect and illegal "salvage" logging permits. Salvage permits weredesigned for well-defined cases in which specific development projectsrequired the clearing of trees -- for road building or industrialdevelopment, such as plantations. There were several strict conditionsimposed before a salvage permit could be allocated. A 1995 decreerequired that an environmental impact assessment be undertaken. In 1998the maximum area for salvage operations was fixed at 1,000 hectares,and the allocation had to be through public auction.

But in July 1999, the Cameroon Forestry Minister, by decree,indefinitely suspended the allocation of all new salvage permits, dueto the "abuses observed in their award" -- bribery, kickbacks, waivingof environmental impact reports, and a range of other corruptpractices. Despite the suspension and the fact that it has never beenrescinded, the allocation of salvage permits has continued, giving asheen of legality to a thoroughly illegal practice.

The companies involved supply timber to traders such as Danish-basedDLH, French traders such as Rougier, Bois des Trois Ports and theReseau Pro distribution chain, part of the UK based Wolseley Group.

Our Forest Campaigner, Sue Connor says: "Stolen rainforest timber isflooding into ports in France and Europe almost daily. It ends up onconstruction sites and is being sold in stores across Europe. If thiscriminal activity is not stopped, the world's rainforests look set todisappear in our lifetime, destroying the homes of millions of forestdependent peoples, plant and animal species, including threatenedlowland gorillas, chimpanzees and forest elephants."

The French Government has made repeated statements that it will takeaction against illegal and destructive forest exploitation. To datetheir action has run counter to those declarations. France continues toopen the borders to illegal timber and to support forest industryinvolved in illegal logging activities. This timber is freely availableon the French and European market.

Despite years of talk by EU Governmentsthere is still no mechanism tostop the flood of illegal and unsustainable timber into ports andstores across Europe. There are stronger protections against piratedmusic than there are against illegal timber: European law looks afterheavy-metal band Mettallica's profits better than the irreplaceablehabitat of the last forestgorillas in the wild.

We are calling on European governments to outlaw all imports of illegaltimber and to promote environmentally and socially responsible forestmanagement worldwide.

copyright 2002 Greenpeace/Global Forest Watch

Sources: Forest cover, TREES (EC Joint Research Scentre)

Potentially intact ancient forest,  Less than 50,000 heactares

Other forests