Illegal logging explodes in West Africa -- Chinese implicated

ALERT'S Pierre-Michel Forget shares this news from West Africa, where forests and wildlife are suffering a terrible toll.

Victim of illegal logging

Victim of illegal logging

Illegal logging is exploding in West Africa.  But where is all that illegal timber going?  The number one suspect among those on the ground: China.

The latest news of rampant illegal tree-cutting comes from Senegal, via the country's former Environment Minister, Haidar El Ali (for the French speakers among us, see also here, here, here, and here). 

The news from Haidar El Ali is alarming, to say the least.  In Senegal, 20,000 illegally cut tree trunks have recently been discovered. 

"The plundering of our forests is a scourge that is growing," said El Ali.

On 24 July, Senegalese President Macky Sall underscored his commitment to combat rampant timber cutting.

"It's an unsustainable phenomenon.  Every year we lose about 40,000 hectares of forest because of this criminal activity," said Sall.

Haidar El Ali said "The method used by traffickers is to pay for a license to cut firewood.  The trunks are then hidden at the bottom of the truck and covered with a layer of firewood or charcoal."

"The large quantities of wood suggest that this is international traffic to China, via Gambia in particular,” the former minister continued.

Lamenting that once-lush forests were now deserts, Haidar El Ali said "It is not a question of resources but of political will.  We can stop this traffic.  We must mobilize all Senegalese."

Ancient African tree headed for China

Ancient African tree headed for China

ALERT has highlighted the growing role of Chinese loggers and timber merchants in illegal logging activities across the developing world (for example, see here, here, and here). 

Just a few weeks ago, Myanmar (Burma) sentenced over 150 Chinese nationals to long prison terms for their role in illegal logging and timber smuggling in that nation.

Pierre-Michel Forget reminds us that In November, China will be attending the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris. 

"Given China's role as the world's biggest polluter and arguably the biggest forest destroyer, we have to tell their delegates emphatically that their alarming planet-degrading activities must stop," says Forget.

China screams about arrest of its illegal loggers

The nation that is provoking more environmental degradation than any other today is very, very upset.

Timber smuggled from Myanmar to China

Timber smuggled from Myanmar to China

Virtually everywhere one looks -- from the Asia-Pacific to Africa, and from Siberia to South and Central America -- China is behind hard-driving schemes to exploit the planet's natural resources. 

China is not only the world's biggest polluter in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, but it is the largest global consumer of timber, construction minerals, iron ores, wildlife, and many other natural resources -- considerable amounts of which are obtained illegally, via corruption or smuggling.  

And through its massive investments in new roads, railroads, mining, dams, and other infrastructure, China is also substantially responsible for opening up many of the world's last remaining wild areas to exploitation.

China is upset because the nation of Myanmar (formerly Burma) has just handed out stiff jail sentences for illegal logging to more than 150 Chinese nationals.  The loggers were arrested in January following a crackdown on illegal forest activities.

Editorials in Chinese state-run media have expressed outrage at the arrests, demanding that those arrested be returned to China. 

For years China has sucked up timber and other natural resources in Myanmar, leading to growing frustration and resentment there.

A court in northern Myanmar -- where illegal logging has been especially rampant -- just handed out 'life' sentences to 153 Chinese loggers.  Such sentences typically run for 20 years in Myanmar. 

Despite the heated Chinese protests, the Myanmar government said it would not interfere in the judicial process. 

While the sentences are certainly severe, they reflect a growing view that Chinese investors, corporations, and workers often display a predatory attitude when working in foreign nations.

China is overwhelmingly the biggest global driver of the illegal wildlife trade, consuming vast quantities of ivory, pelts, bones, shark fins, and hundreds of other wildlife products, including those from a number of endangered species.

No nation consumes more tropical timber than China.  It has been heavily criticized both for failing to support illegal-logging measures internationally and for pursuing mainly raw logs from timber-exporting nations. 

China's addiction to timber

China's addiction to timber

Raw logs, which are unprocessed, provide only minimal employment, industrial development, and income for timber-exporting countries, and thus are the least profitable way for a nation to exploit its forests.

Last April, Myanmar banned the export of raw logs.  But many Chinese loggers have paid little attention to the new law and have been engaged in smuggling rings that have effectively stolen huge quantities of Myanmar's timber.

Timber smuggled into China from 2000 to 2013 was worth nearly US$6 billion, according to Myanmar government estimates.

Unless China reigns in its aggressive tactics, expect more backlash from developing nations that are feeling ripped-off.  No matter how much China screams about it. 

 

Protected areas do far better when governments work to make them succeed

Why do some protected areas do a good job of protecting their biodiversity whereas others struggle to keep the poachers and illegal loggers out?

Protecting biodiversity takes effort -- but it's worth it  (photo by William Laurance)

Protecting biodiversity takes effort -- but it's worth it (photo by William Laurance)

In a new analysis published in Biological Conservation, ALERT members Corey Bradshaw and Bill Laurance, along with colleague Ian Craigie, argue that it largely comes down to national commitment.

When you factor out national-level variables like population size, socioeconomic differences, and the like, one big conclusion jumps out at you. 

Nations that are serious about protecting their protected areas -- and by that we mean they designate most of their reserves into IUCN categories I-IV, which enjoy the greatest legal protections -- their reserves and biodiversity fare a lot better.

In many nations -- China being an obvious example -- few reserves are fully protected.  Rather, the reserves can also support a range of human uses, such as limited hunting, natural-products harvests, logging, and land clearing.  Such reserves fall into the IUCN categories V and VI.   

However, reserves that are nominally fully protected include things like national parks, World Heritage sites, and wildlife preserves, where conservation of nature is the top priority.

In their analysis, Bradshaw and colleagues tried to factor out all the complicating factors that can bedevil such national-level comparisons.  The result was that the "high-protection" nations did a lot better overall than the "lower-protection" nations in terms of maintaining the biological health of their reserves.

The answer is appealing intuitively and makes sense.  The more you invest in protecting nature reserves -- and that means not only defending the reserves but also striving the limit the threatening land-use changes immediately around them -- the better their biodiversity fares.

Conserving nature is often not cheap.  For that reason, nations that make a real commitment to protecting their imperiled reserves and biota should be recognized and heartily applauded.