Tropical forests provide homes for an incredible array of wildlife and other species. Orchids drip from a tree that stretches high into the canopy, absorbing sun and softening rainfall. Birds chatter in the branches as an orangutan mother shows her child how to use a stick to forage. Their rainforest home contains not only a wealth of biodiversity and a livelihood for local people, but may prove integral to solving the global warming crisis.
Forests hold massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) within their plant life. When forests are eliminated, this CO2 is released back into the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming. Scientists estimate that one quarter of the reductions in CO2 emissions necessary to stabilize the atmosphere can be achieved simply by preserving the world's forests and managing land use sustainably. Currently, 30% of the global warming pollution released into the atmosphere each year is a result of deforestation.
Well managed, sustainable forestry can help to conserve wildlife and other species while providing timber products that we use. Unfortunately, most commercial logging in developing countries is illegal, often focusing on rare or endangered species such as bigleaf mahogany, merbau, and ramin which fetch high prices in the market.
The True Cost of Illegal Logging
Illegal logging does not generate revenue necessary for countries to pay off debt or provide basic services. The World Bank estimates that developing countries lose $15 billion annually to illegal logging.
The economies of developed countries suffer when domestic timber industries are undercut by cheap imports.The U.S. timber industry estimates annual losses of $1
billion due to decreased exports and depressed prices.
Indigenous communities and farmers are forced to work for logging companies and, in some cases, have received death threats from timber companies. In the Peruvian
mahogany industry alone, an estimated 33,000 individuals work under forced labor conditions.
The illegal timber trade may be used to smuggle narcotics and launder drug money, while profits from these illegal sales are used to finance criminal regimes or
perpetuate regional conflict.
Deforested areas are extremely vulnerable to mudslides from heavy rains, floods, or waves. The President of the Philippines banned domestic logging after hundreds
of people died in mudslides triggered by a typhoon.
The Lacey Act: Supporting the Environment, Jobs, and our Economy
Lacey Act is one of the United States' oldest and most effective conservation laws. Signed into law in 1900, the Lacey Act instituted prohibitions and penalties on the trade of protected animals and plant species. Over the past century, the Lacey Act was amended several times and is now an even more powerful tool for prohibiting interstate and international trafficking of flora and fauna.
The U.S. Congress passed the most recent and notable amendment to the Lacey Act in 2008. The amendment banned illegal trade of plants and plant products, including timber, requiring importers to declare the species, country of origin, and other information upon import. This declaration process increased transparency in the timber trade and increased the enforceability of the Lacey Act. The 2008 amendments also authorized seizures of illegal wood products and put a more comprehensive penalty system for offenders into effect.
The Lacey Act and its 2008 amendments are showing impressive results. Because the United States is the largest consumer of wood products, the U.S. ban on illegal timber imports has significantly influenced the reductions in illegal logging, which is down 20-30% worldwide and more than 50% in some countries since 2002. Companies around the globe are changing the way they make sourcing decisions and monitor their supply chains. Consistent enforcement is essential to solidify these new behaviors so they become common practice.
The Lacey Act also supports a healthy U.S. economy. Many in the U.S. wood and paper industries have stressed that they can't compete with illegally sourced wood and its artificially low prices. By reducing trade in illegal timber, the Lacey Act also supports U.S. business and U.S. jobs.