Drop in Illegal Logging Left 42 Million Acres of Forest Standing Tall

By Joseph Calamia | July 15, 2010 2:37 pm

loggingImagine enough forest to cover the state of Florida. According to a recent report (pdf), a downturn in illegal logging has protected that amount of forest land–some 42 million acres–over the past decade.

The decrease is a good start, London think tank Chatam House authors say, but there is still more work to do.

“We’re a quarter of the way there,” said Sam Lawson, one of the report’s authors. He expressed the hope that newer regulations–such as a European law passed last week that will ban the import of illegal timber by 2012–would cut the amount of illegal logging even further. [AP]

During the last decade, the report says, Cameroon, the Brazilian Amazon, and Indonesia have decreased logging between 50 and 75 percent. Meanwhile, the seven studied consumer and processing countries have decreased illegally harvested wood imports by 30 percent.

Among those importing countries is the United States, which in 2008 became the first country to ban all imports of illegally logged plants and plant products, including furniture and paper. Europe’s ban, passed earlier this month, will go into effect in 2012.

Still, despite these laws and others in exporting countries, a good deal of illegally sourced lumber still makes it to market. Some exporting countries, like Ghana and Malaysia, haven’t reduced their output, and “processing countries” like China and Vietnam can allow illegal lumber to pass through. Finally, even in the United States some importers don’t abide by the ban.

[C]ompanies still often turn a blind eye, “prioritizing profits over ethical standards,” according to the report’s lead author, Sam Lawson…. But even a total end to illegal timber imports wouldn’t solve the problem, as the contraband would likely find its way to “less sensitive” markets, such as the Middle East, according to Lawson. “If the United States just shuts off its market—even if it could—it would still be a great problem,” he says. [Nature News]

The reports’ authors also outline the consequences if the current illegal harvest does not stop. The report cites the amount of money lost to illegal logging and also logging’s environmental consequences–it estimates that forest destruction is responsible for up to 20 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activities.

As a specific example, the report estimates that the 42 million acres mentioned above store 1.2 billion tons of Co2 and are worth 6.5 billion dollars (if harvested legally). The forests’ also serve as home and livelihood for many of these producer countries’ people.

The stakes are high, said lead author Sam Lawson. “Up to a billion of the world’s poorest people are dependent on forests, and reductions in illegal logging are helping to protect their livelihoods,” he said. [AFP]

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Image: flickr / Nirudha Perera

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