Progress in the battle against illegal logging

Illegal logging is a scourge for many developing nations, imperiling forests and biodiversity and robbing the government of direly needed revenues.  So it's heartening to hear that the battle against illegal logging is gaining some traction.

Ill-gotten timber?  (photo by William Laurance)

Ill-gotten timber? (photo by William Laurance)

A key development has been the growing impact of laws or regulations designed to reduce illegal trade in timber-consuming nations.  These include the European Union's FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) measures, the Lacey Act in the U.S., and Australia's Illegal-Logging Prohibition Act.

All of these measures put teeth into rules that regulate timber imports.  In essence, they require companies importing timber to use 'due diligence' to ensure that the wood or paper products they import are legal. 

Heavy penalties can apply for those who knowingly or negligently flaunt the law.

According to recent reports by Chatham House, a leading U.K. think tank, high-risk timber imports are falling for most timber-importing nations, including the U.S., Japan, Britain, France, and the Netherlands.  Australia's legislation is only beginning to be enforced now.

The Chatham House reports suggest that Japan is lagging somewhat, because it imports lots of wood and paper products from China, Russia, and Malaysia, all of which are thought to deal frequently in illegal timber.

This progress is definitely good news, and it illustrates the importance and impact of legislation that tightens the rules for timber importers. 

Notably, opponents of such laws -- including the notorious timber lobbyist Alan Oxley -- have long argued that these measures were unnecessary and would be ineffective.  The Chatham House reports clearly show such arguments are wrong.


Will Australia back-slide on its illegal logging bill?

Illegal logging is a serious and very real problem in the tropics, promoting forest loss and damage and robbing developing nations of up to US$30 billion in direly needed revenues each year.  Illegal loggers also have an unfair advantage over legitimate timber producers.  It's for such reasons that it would be absurd for Australia to roll back or weaken its anti-logging bill.

Logging trucks in Borneo--forests are falling fast.

Logging trucks in Borneo--forests are falling fast.

After a great deal of debate and research, the previous Australian Government finally passed an illegal logging bill in March 2013.  ALERT member Bill Laurance played an active role in this debate, briefing the Australian Senate and writing extensively about the importance of the bill.

Now the new Australian Government, led by the conservative Liberal-National Party Coalition under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is considering repealing the hard-won bill, according to World Growth International, a pro-industry group that lobbies for large international timber producers.  The LNP has declared a wide-ranging war on what it calls "red and green tape".

Nobody likes excess bureaucracy, but the illegal-logging bill is playing an important role in helping to reduce illegal logging, along with comparable legislation in the US (the Lacey Act) and Europe (the FLEGT initiative).  Repealing or weakening it would be astonishingly unwise.

If the LNP presses ahead with this ill-advised tack, Australian and international scientists must be ready to speak up forcefully and often.