This chart from the report illustrates the improbable spurt of new timber coming out of Indonesian, likely harvested rain forest trees funneled through legal plantations.
Tropical rain forests—enormous carbon sinks, workers of regional weather, home to millions of species, sources of new drugs—have a lot more to offer alive than dead; lumber isn’t much good at curing cancer or keeping global temperatures down. Yet deforestation continues, and even getting legislation that makes the logging of rain forest illegal is probably unlikely to deter the worst offenders. Though some estimates claim rates of deforestation have dropped, according to a new United Nations Environmental Program and INTERPOL report [pdf], that decrease is simply the result of better cover-up on the part of the criminal cartels that control the $30-100 billion a year business of illegal logging. Business in so-called “black” wood, it turns out, is flourishing.
The report describes in detail how illegal logging operations work and provides analyses of the social and government factors that facilitate them. One of the easiest ways to get illegal wood out of a country is by slipping it in with wood from an above-board plantation, for instance. This means that the amount of wood coming out of legal plantations can grossly exceed what you might expect, as demonstrated in the figure above. The end result of all these stratagems is that 50-90% of the wood coming out of some tropical countries is illicit. Between 15 and 30% of the international timber market, in fact, is now in illegally cut wood.
Logging in Brazil
When the chief of one Amazonian tribe counseled his people to fight back against illegal logging of their land, the loggers wasted no time in retaliating: they put a $100,000 bounty on his head.
Natural resources are growing scarcer and more valuable, and murders of people attempting to protect them are growing. According to a report by Global Witness, an organization that investigates and counters resource-related conflict and human rights abuses, killings motivated by forests and land have more than doubled over the past three years. In the last decade, 711 people—among them journalists, activists, and locals—have been killed, totaling more than one person per week. Most of the killers are not prosecuted, and information about such murders is hard to come by, but most of the killings are reported to be in Brazil, Colombia, the Phillipines, and Peru.
Imagine 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.