Illegal Logging Is Bigger Than You Think

I’m working on an article about the national monument that will take a little longer to put together, so here’s a brief post to hold you over.

Illegal logging is definitely bigger than I thought, at least. When I wrote last December about the outsourcing of Maine’s paper industry, I mentioned that some illegal timber is making its way into China’s paper mills from places like Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What I didn’t get into, however, was how pervasive the illegal timber trade is worldwide.

Looking at the kind of illegal logging that happens in Maine—where every once in a while someone cuts down the wrong trees and has to pay a fine—it might be hard to imagine how it could be such a major problem. It turns out that, according to Interpol, the illegal logging industry was worth an estimated $30 billion globally in 2012. That was slightly more than a quarter of the legitimate global logging industry’s value of around $115 billion that year. That is a whole lot of money. This logging contributes to unsustainable deforestation, loss of government revenues, and of course, the subversion of legitimate logging operations like those found in Maine.

Illegal logging seems to happen almost everywhere trees are found. South American countries, particularly in the Amazon area, see large amounts of these activities. The World Bank estimated that 80% of Peru’s timber exports were harvested illegally. In Africa, the issue stretches from the DRC, as mentioned in my previous post, to Cameroon to Senegal. Almost every country in Southeast Asia is affected, with reports on the issue readily available for Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines. Russia’s Far East is even a major source of illegal timber harvesting.

The U.S. actually has a law to punish the import of illegally harvested wood (and wildlife generally), called the Lacey Act, and it has been put to use recently. Last year, Lumber Liquidators was fined $13.2 million for importing wood harvested illegally in Russia and other lumber with falsely identified countries of origin. The Act has been used to punish the import of illegal logs in the past, including by Gibson, the guitar manufacturer, which was importing wood illegally harvested in Madagascar and India.

Maine already has one illicit global market inflicting harm via the heroin epidemic. It turns out the illegal timber market is another one (although its impact is much less direct of course). Let’s hope countries get a grip on this problem soon.


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Phoenix McLaughlin

About Phoenix McLaughlin

Phoenix McLaughlin works at the National Endowment for Democracy helping to foster political development in Asia. Phoenix lives in Washington, D.C. now, but was born and raised in Norway, Maine. In between, he has studied and/or worked in Colorado, Nepal, India, France, Ethiopia, and Augusta. All opinions expressed on this blog are solely his own and do not represent his current or former employers.