Illegal logging abroad also hits home


It can be difficult to police timber, since so much of it is in remote areas. In Washington State, timber theft has been getting increased attention recently, with a story in the Seattle Times, a high-profile guilty plea in federal court and smaller timber thefts hitting the news, like this one near Longview.

Reid Johnston, part of a family that owns 260 acres of forestland near the Olympic National Forest, pleaded guilty in November to stealing 102 trees from the national forest, including a Douglas fir that was 8 feet in diameter and 300 years old.

Johnston says he thought the trees were on his family’s property and that he did not knowingly cut down trees on federal land. But that argument did not hold up with federal prosecutors.

What’s obscured by the press coverage of local timber thefts, however, is that the greater problem for the timber industry is illegal logging in other countries. Last year, the World Bank called illegal logging a “global epidemic.”

Every two seconds, the (World Bank) report estimates, an area of forest the size of a football field is clear-cut by illegal loggers. In some countries, as much as 90 percent of the logging that takes place is illegal. The criminal proceeds generated annually by illegal logging range from $10 billion to $15 billion, most of which is “controlled by organized crime, untaxed and used to pay corrupt government officials at all levels,” the report said.

Strong stuff. And in the World Bank’s view, the problem requires strong solutions.

“We need to fight organized crime in illegal logging the way we go after gangsters selling drugs or racketeering,” Jean Pesme, manager of the World Bank’s financial market integrity team, said in a statement accompanying the report.

China, with tremendous growth and demand, is now the world’s leading importer, consumer and exporter of timber. That demand from China is responsible for a rebound of the U.S. timber industry, but according to numerous reports, China is not as stringent as it should be in cracking down on illegal timber. This has allowed illegal logging to flourish in places like Russia, Central Africa, Thailand and Vietnam.

There have been some efforts to crack down. Interpol just announced the arrest of 200 people involved in illegal logging across a dozen counties in Central and South America. But the illegal logging trade is far-reaching and will be very difficult to stop.

Still, the U.S. timber industry is taking notice. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the country’s leading forest certification system, put out a press release this week applauding the European Union for approving a new law that “prohibits illegally harvested timber or products derived from such timber to be brought in the European Union.”

SFI President Kathy Abusow, speaking at a timber summit in Sweden, also pointed out that forest certification can be a powerful tool to ensure a company’s timber supply chain is legitimate. The law passed in Europe is called the European Union Timber Regulation, or EUTR.

“Illegal logging undermines responsible forest governance, damages wildlife habitat, and reduces the potential for forests to provide stable supplies of products and support local communities,” Abusow said. “The EUTR, just like the U.S. Lacey Act, is an important regulatory tool to address illegal logging and enable legal global trade in forest products.”