Tree Gangsters Are Killing the Rainforest

Organized criminal syndicates are responsible for most illegal logging, which accounts for up to 30 percent of timber traded globally

A new U.N. report reveals that, in key tropical countries, as much as 90 percent of logging is illegal and, increasingly, connected to organized criminal syndicates. Illegal logging is the driving force behind much of the world’s rainforest deforestation, and rather than being on the decline, it’s becoming more advanced as cartels gain better organizational structure and adopt methods to evade authorities.

By some estimates, the report states, 15 to 30 percent of wood annually traded around the world is obtained illegally. While illegal logging continues unchecked, local efforts to introduce conservation or sustainable logging initiatives will stagnate, the authors warn. TreeHugger elaborates:

The concern is that coordinated illegal logging efforts may be trumping conservation efforts in countries that lack the resources or political stability necessary to crack down on the practice.

Illegal logging operations are especially rampant in Indonesia, Brazil, and unstable forest-rich African nations like the Congo.

Not so surprising: poorer, more corrupt governments will foster environments more likely to contain rampant illegal logging. Actually surprising: the sheer scale of these illicit operations.

In 2008, for example, Indonesia officially exported just over 18 million more cubic meters of wood than in 2000. The country reported that the additional wood came from legal plantations, but this claim turned out to be largely untrue. Rather, most of the wood came from protected forests.

In summary, TreeHugger explains:

The sad fact that criminal organizations are driving the spike in deforestation means that traditional regulatory structures are mostly powerless to address it; nations are going to have to rethink their conservation strategies from the ground up. And the international community is going to have find and activate new mechanisms capable of dealing with a relatively new beast — the timber mafia.

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