What is illegal wood?
Illegal wood is typically linked with illegal logging, but in fact the Lacey Act covers violations of any national or international laws governing timber production and the trade in forest products. Examples include:
- Timber theft, i.e. logging in forests without the legal right to do so
- Logging timber in protected areas such as parks or reserves without proper permission
- Logging protected species
- Logging in non-compliance with specifications of a concession permit or harvesting license
- Illegal documentation (including trade documents)
- Wood transported or processed in defiance of local and national laws
- Violations of international trade agreements (e.g. CITES)
- Failure to pay legally prescribed taxes, fees or royalties
- Violations of labor laws and worker’s rights (e.g. illegal or slave labor, child labor, violation of the legal rights of indigenous peoples)
Why is illegal logging a problem?
Illegal logging is most prevalent in parts of the world that still have large areas of forest and where law enforcement and governance is weak. i.e. many countries in Latin America, SE Asia, and Africa, as well as the Russian Far East. The negative impacts of illegal logging include environmental, economic and social aspects.
Environmental impacts include the loss or degradation of forests, as illegal logging tends to be associated with forest mining rather than management. This can result in the loss of habitats and biodiversity. For example, illegal logging is threatening the survival of some of the world’s most endangered primates including orangutans in Indonesia and the Siberian tiger.
Illegal logging is also linked to deforestation and forest degradation which has implications for climate change, since forests play a crucial role in both mitigating against and adapting to climate change. Illegal logging in just nine forest producer countries is estimated to have released 210 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2013.
Illegal logging can result in the loss of government revenue. Such losses can be significant. It has been estimated that the Indonesian government lost $7 billion between 2007 and 2011 due to illegal logging and forest sector mismanagement. Loss of revenue undermines efforts to place the forest sector on a more sustainable footing, as lost revenue cannot be reinvested in the sector.
Furthermore, because illegal logging is often unsustainable, future sources of employment and export revenues are not realized.
Illegal logging also distorts global markets and undermines incentives for sustainable forest management, as illegal timber is often cheaper than legal timber. A study published in 2004 estimated that illegal products were depressing world prices by between 7% and 16%.
The social impacts of illegal logging are diverse. Illegal logging undermines the rule of law and is often associated with corruption. It may also entail a lack of recognition of the land and resource use rights of forest communities, or of the rights of other concession-holders. This can have negative impacts on the livelihoods of local people and result in conflict. The revenues from illegal logging may also fund national and regional conflicts, as has been the case in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
What is the Lacey Act?
The Lacey Act is a United States law passed in 1900 that bans trafficking in illegal wildlife. In 2008, the Act was amended to include plants, including trees, and plant products such as wood and paper. This was the world’s first ban on trade in illegally sourced wood products, but it has been followed by similar legislation in the European Union, Japan and Australia.
There are two major components to the Lacey amendments: a ban on trading plants or plant products harvested in violation of the law; and a requirement to declare the scientific name, value, quantity, and country of harvest origin for some products.
Penalties for violating the Lacey Act vary in severity based on the violator’s level of knowledge about the product: penalties are higher for those who knew they were trading in illegally harvested materials. For those who did not know, penalties vary based on whether the individual or company in question did everything possible to determine that the product was legal. In the U.S. system, this is called “due care.”