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.


Birds wiped out by pesticides: A new 'Silent Spring'?

In 1962, Rachel Carson provoked the modern environmental movement with her classic book, Silent Spring -- which castigated big chemical manufacturers and government regulators for allowing the rampant use of DDT and other environmental toxins that killed wild animals and triggered deadly cancers.  Could we be on the verge of another Silent Spring?

No more songs to herald the Spring?

No more songs to herald the Spring?

That's the frightening implication of a new paper in the leading journal Science, which suggests a commonly used type of toxin, known as a "neonicotinoid pesticide", is causing severe declines of bird populations. 

The toxin, which is chemically similar to nicotine, is the most widely used pesticide on Earth.

In the study, which was based in the Netherlands, the researchers showed that the insecticide so severely depressed insect numbers that local populations of 15 species of insect-eating birds declined strongly as well

Where the pesticide was applied heavily, local bird populations declined by an average of 3.5 percent annually, a rapid fall in numbers.  These declines only began in the mid-1990s, after the toxin was introduced to the Netherlands.

The nicotine-like pesticides have previously been associated with severe declines of bees -- which are vital pollinators of many agricultural crops and wild plants. 

Now it appears that wherever the pesticides are used heavily, insect-eating bird populations are also declining rapidly.

Were she alive today, Rachel Carson would be aghast to think her deadly Silent Spring might be returning.