The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Stopping Illegal Logging Will Protect Endangered Species While Saving American Jobs
Second in size only to the Amazon, the Congo Basin rainforests are a hotbed of biological diversity. From lowland gorillas to African teak, more than 10,000 species of tropical plants are found alongside 400 species of mammals and 1,000 species of birds. Unfortunately, these rainforests and the communities that depend on them are under attack from illegal logging. As one of the largest consumers of wood products, the U.S. has the responsibility, and the tools in place, to help stop illegal logging in the Congo Basin.
Worldwide, trade in forest products is worth up to $400 billion USD. Up to 30 percent of timber traded globally has illegal origins, but in the Congo Basin region more than 50 percent of all timber exports are estimated to be illegal, with countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo reaching up to 90 percent. Much of this valuable tropical wood now heads to China, where it is made into wood products and shipped elsewhere, including to the U.S. Over the past ten years, timber exports from the Congo Basin to the U.S. represented approximately $15 million USD per year.
Driven by widespread corruption, weak and contradicting laws, and a lack of enforcement, illegal logging has thrived in Congo Basin countries. Throughout the region logging companies and illegal loggers systematically violate local laws by felling and exporting trees outside their allotted concessions, cutting greater wood volumes than authorized, then use falsified documents to launder to export the timber. This has considerable detrimental impacts not only on the local economy but also on forest-dependent communities as they are deprived from their main source of livelihood and income.
The illegal timber trade doesn’t just harm forests and communities in the Central African region, it also undercuts American jobs and threatens our climate. More than 370,000 people work in the U.S. wood products manufacturing industry, making everything from cabinets to paper. However, each year American companies lose roughly $1 billion USD due to cheaper illegally sourced imports and less valuable exports. Further, illegal logging drives deforestation, which accounts for 17 percent of all carbon pollution worldwide. Put another way, deforestation emits more than all cars, trucks, trains and planes in the world combined.
Although half a world away, the U.S. can, and should, help fight the illegal timber trade in the Congo Basin. One of the U.S.’ first conservation laws, the Lacey Act, was amended in 2008 to prevent the importation of illegally sourced wood products. Companies must take steps to ensure their products are legal, with violators facing fines or jail. However, a law is only effective if it is enforced. It is critical that the Obama administration fully enforces the Lacey Act in order to send a strong signal to companies that they must source their wood legally.
Thankfully, last month the Department of Justice concluded a two-year investigation into Lumber Liquidators, which faced allegations of knowingly importing flooring made from timber illegally harvested in Siberian tiger habitat. In a plea agreement, Lumber Liquidators pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors and a felony for importing flooring made of illegally sourced wood. This marks the first time a major U.S. company has been found guilty of a felony for smuggling illegal wood. This is a welcome step, but it is no silver bullet.
The U.S. can help protect the Congo Basin’s stunning biodiversity. To do that, the Obama administration must increase the level of scrutiny of timber exports coming from the Congo Basin region, support Central African enforcement agencies in investigating suspicious companies and continue to fully enforce the Lacey Act. Stopping illegal logging will not only save forests in the Congo Basin, it will protect American jobs and our climate.
Eric Parfait Essomba is the Congo Basin representative for the Environmental Investigation Agency, based in Cameroon.
Jesse Prentice-Dunn is a senior campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, based in Denver, Colorado.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jessica Corbett
Dozens of students, parents, teachers and professionals joined a Friday protest organized by Extinction Rebellion that temporarily stalled morning rush-hour traffic in London's southeasten borough of Lewisham to push politicians to more boldly address dangerous air pollution across the city.
Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Moment / Getty Images
By Bridget Shirvell
On a farm in upstate New York, a cheese brand is turning millions of pounds of food scraps into electricity needed to power its on-site businesses. Founded by eight families, each with their own dairy farms, Craigs Creamery doesn't just produce various types of cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and Muenster cheeses, sold in chunks, slices, shreds and snack bars; they're also committed to becoming a zero-waste operation.
By Jessica A. Knoblauch
Summers in the Midwest are great for outdoor activities like growing your garden or cooling off in one of the area's many lakes and streams. But some waters aren't as clean as they should be.
That's in part because coal companies have long buried toxic waste known as coal ash near many of the Midwest's iconic waterways, including Lake Michigan. Though coal ash dumps can leak harmful chemicals like arsenic and cadmium into nearby waters, regulators have done little to address these toxic sites. As a result, the Midwest is now littered with coal ash dumps, with Illinois containing the most leaking sites in the country.
By Ketura Persellin
You've likely heard that eating meat and poultry isn't good for your health or the planet. Recent news from Washington may make meat even less palatable: Pork inspections may be taken over by the industry itself, if a Trump administration proposal goes into effect, putting tests for deadly pathogens into the hands of the industry.
More than 600 people gathered on a Florida beach Saturday to break the world record for the largest underwater cleanup of ocean litter.
That salmon sitting in your neighborhood grocery store's fish counter won't look the same to you after watching Artifishal, a new film from Patagonia.