So the other night, I attended a presentation about the illegal timber trade called Faces of Forest Loss. In NYU School of Law's beautiful, mahogany-paneled Lipton Hall, we heard from such impressive forest defenders as Anne Kajir , of Papua New Guinea; Julio Cusurichi , of Peru; and Arbi Valentinus, of Indonesia. Each of them told us a little bit about the disastrous effects of illegal logging in their countries and what is being done to fight against it.
Here is the general story about illegal timber trade according to Ari Herkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council , who moderated the panel: an armed, often state-backed mafia, enters a forest that is ostensibly off-limits to harvest timber for the international market. This is, of course, an environmental issue: 18% of global greenhouse emissions come from deforestation, Cusurichi told us, but it is also a very serious human rights issue. Illegal forest destruction tends to have the worst, most direct impact on indigenous communities who call the forest home; furthermore, those who try to speak up against it often become the victims of serious intimidation and violence from those who stand to make a profit from the illegal timber trade.
Arbi Valentinus emphasized that the responsibility for this falls both on the supplier and the consumer -- these timber mafias wouldn't be making such profits if we weren't buying their stolen wood. The US is a major market for illegal timber, because due to a loophole in the Lacey Act of 1981, which focuses on plant and wildlife protection, it is not illegal to import illegally harvested timber into this country! An importer could literally announce to a customs officer that he had a load of illegally harvested wood, and there would be nothing the official could do about it. In August, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced the Combat Illegal Logging Act of 2007 , which would amend the Lacey Act to actually prevent illegal logging practices. Valentinus said that it would be up for debate in October, but I couldn't find anything on the internet about that.
Legislation sounds fabulous, but we as consumers also need to think about our power and our impact. A man from the organization Rainforest Relief raised his hand to point out the irony of all of progressive-minded folk sitting on mahogany chairs there applauding this good work; he added that New York City is the single largest consumer of tropical hardwoods in North America! We should also remember that illegal logging happens not only in order to create timber goods for the international market, but also in order to clear lands for agribusiness.
When I worked at Greenpeace a couple of summers ago as an intern for their forest campaign, I did a lot of research towards putting together a 'wood-purchasing guide' for conscious consumers who did not want to participate in the illegal timber trade in any way. I'm not sure if the guide was ever finished, but I remember being particularly excited that Ikea, as far as I could tell, had a pretty good reputation timber-wise. Yay Ikea!