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Illegal Logging: Where Does Your Wood Come From?Tags: global united states awareness illegal operations corruption impact ecological companies politicians civil society

USA - This week Congress could pass an act that would cut down on illegal logging, which has devastating consequences on local habitats, economies and climate change.

Nearly half of what China exports is cheap wooden furniture, and most of the wood is logged illegally in Thailand, Burma, Indonesia and Russia. Illegal logging destroys the habitats of people, birds, beasts, as well as the natural barrier against global warming. It also costs those countries about $10 billion a year. This week the U.S. government can help slow down illegal logging if the House votes to expand the Lacey Act. Rolf Skor is the senior forest campaigner for Greenpeace USA. He spoke with NAM Managing Editor Mary Ambrose on KALW’s UpFront.

What is the Lacey Act?

The Lacey Act is a time-tested law that’s protected Americans and American economies from the import of illegal products since the turn of the century. Basically, it gives the federal government the authority to hold people accountable if they are importing illegal animal products into the country. Now, the government could expand the Lacey Act to include all plants, trees and forest products so that the federal government can hold importers accountable if they are importing illegal wood.

What is illegal wood?

Illegal wood is wood that’s been logged in blatant violation of existing laws overseas. It’s not something that is nitpicky. It’s big violations like criminal gangs moving into an area and logging on land they’re not authorized to log and they don’t own. Unfortunately that’s what’s happening around the world today.

The Lacey Act currently protects animals. Who do they prosecute?

If there are pirate fishing ships fishing in international waters or in waters off the coast of countries where they shouldn’t be and they try to bring that fish into the United States, unfairly competing with legal producers, the federal government can go after those importers.

So you want to do that same thing with wood.

Absolutely. It’s common sense.

Why is so much illegal wood coming into the United States?

As the global economy develops it gets increasingly difficult to trace back products to their source. For example, when you go and buy furniture today at a furniture store it may be something that was manufactured in China, but the wood came from Eastern Russia, it came from Malaysia, and it was laundered from Indonesia originally. It gets extremely complicated very quickly. So consumers can’t figure out if it was logged illegally or not.

Don’t the manufacturers or even the stores have some sort of trail where they can know the lumber’s origins?

Unfortunately, most companies are not spending the time or the resources to have that chain of custody from the point of being logged to the shelves at a retail center. There is a certification scheme called the Forest Stewardship Council, that requires a chain of custody for certification. That’s one way people can know what they are buying is legal.

So you can walk into a shop and say you want this seal on your wood.

Yes, the FSC certified wood.

Are any furniture stores taking action to make sure they’re not selling wood that came from illegal logging?

Ikea is an industry leader in terms of looking for FSC wood and trying to enforce its standards for legal wood. But by all accounts there are just tons and tons of illegal wood still making it into their products. They can’t count on governments, local companies, or local lumber dealers to give them the right answers.

Research that I read about this suggests that the reason is that all these people end up getting bribed.

And that is right.

Let’s talk specifics. Most wooden American patio furniture is made out of Burmese wood. There’s a military regime in Burma. Why don’t they crack down on the pirates there?

Even if a company or country had a ban on importing Burma’s wood, it’s quite easy for a country like Burma or Indonesia to have illegal logging take place and to have it more or less laundered through a country like Malaysia. It is given false certification stamps so it’s certified as Malaysian wood. Then some company in China can buy it from the so-called ‘Malaysian’ producer—and it goes to a Chinese mill, gets chipped up, made into flooring and then exported to the European union or the United States for sale in retail centers.

Every time there’s a small roadblock put up in the way of these folks, they get around it pretty quickly because there’s so much money at stake that they figure out ways to falsify documents.

Give us a broader image of what this is doing to us globally.

First, about a billion people depend directly on forests for their daily life, food, drinking water, materials for their sustenance, their cultural and religious survival. Through deforestation, they lose their drinking water, their food source—they’re in real trouble.

Some people think of illegal logging as something that is a tree here or a tree there, but let me just go through a couple figures to put it into perspective. Indonesia this year set the Guinness Book of World Records for deforestation. According to the World Bank it’s calculated at about 70 to 80 percent of the logging in Indonesia. This world record-breaking logging is completely illegal. That’s a forest about twice the size of Delaware that is criminally clear cut each year. Imagine the indigenous communities, the local communities, the local folks who had a forest in their backyard and suddenly don’t.

In Papua New Guinea, about 70 percent of their logging is illegal. The Russian far east is about 50 percent, Thailand is 40 percent, Gabon 70 percent, Burma 50 percent or more. This is a tremendous problem all over the world.

What does this mean for those countries’ governments?

The local governments are being robbed of royalties and taxes that they could be using to fund much needed services. For example, in Indonesia it’s estimated in recent years that they lost an estimated $600 to $700 million annually in royalties and taxes. That’s about twice what the Indonesian government uses to subsidize food for poor people in that country.

There’s a lot of corruption going on and when political officials profit from illegal logging, when they have ties to illegal logging—or in some cases when they are being bullied by these gangs involved in this illegal logging, they don’t stand up, they don’t take real action.

Give us some idea of the effect of this on climate change.

This is another striking fact. The two biggest global greenhouse gas emitters are easy to guess: China and the United States. The third is one that no one almost never guesses: Indonesia. It’s because of the deforestation happening there. In one province, Riau province in Sumatra, Indonesia, it is estimated that there are 14.6 billion tons of carbon just in these specialized peat land forest areas. If that 14.6 billion tons of carbon were to be released, if those areas were de-forested, that’s the equivalent of all other greenhouse gas emissions from the rest of the world—over the course of an entire year.

Forests in Indonesia, the rain forest in the Congo and the Amazon in Brazil are literal carbon bombs waiting to go off. If we’re not careful, we will not only lose biodiversity and impoverish local communities, but we will set up a slippery slope in terms of our global climate that will be impossible to stop.

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