Quantcast

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.

The Congo Basin’s rivers, forests, savannas and swamps teem with life. Many endangered species, including forest elephants, chimpanzees, bonobos and lowland and mountain gorillas live in the Congo Basin. Photo credit: WWF

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.

The Congo Basin in Central Africa.

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

Remarkable Video Shows How to Turn Art Into Activism

Landmark Ruling Finds Japanese Whalers Guilty of Contempt of Court

Yellowstone National Park Proposes Slaughtering 1,000 Wild Bison

7 Ultimate Hikes From Around the World That Should Be on Your Bucket List

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Matt Cardy / Stringer / Getty Images

The Guardian is changing the way it writes about environmental issues.

Read More Show Less
Blueberry yogurt bark. SEE D JAN / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Having nutritious snacks to eat during the workday can help you stay energized and productive.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A 2017 flood in Elk Grove, California. Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources

By Tara Lohan

It's been the wettest 12 months on record in the continental United States. Parts of the High Plains and Midwest are still reeling from deadly, destructive and expensive spring floods — some of which have lasted for three months.

Mounting bills from natural disasters like these have prompted renewed calls to reform the National Flood Insurance Program, which is managed by Federal Emergency Management Agency and is now $20 billion in debt.

Read More Show Less
Jennifer A. Smith / Moment / Getty Images

By Brenda Ekwurzel

When temperatures hit the 80s Fahrenheit in May above latitude 40, sun-seekers hit the parks, lakes, and beaches, and thoughts turn to summer. By contrast, when temperatures lurk in the drizzly 40s and 50s well into flower season, northerners get impatient for summer. But when those 80-degree temperatures visit latitude 64 in Russia, as they just did, and when sleet disrupts Mother's Day weekend in May in Massachusetts, as it just did, thoughts turn to: what is going on here?

Read More Show Less
Shrimp fishing along the coast of Nayarit, Mexico. Tomas Castelazo / Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

By Paula Ezcurra and Octavio Aburto

Thousands of hydroelectric dams are under construction around the world, mainly in developing countries. These enormous structures are one of the world's largest sources of renewable energy, but they also cause environmental problems.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Activists in North Dakota confront pipeline construction activities. A Texas bill would impose steep penalties for such protests. Speak Freely / ACLU

By Eoin Higgins

A bill making its way through the Texas legislature would make protesting pipelines a third-degree felony, the same as attempted murder.

Read More Show Less
An Australian flag flutters in the wind in a dry drought-ridden landscape. Virginia Star / Moment / Getty Images

Australia re-elected its conservative governing Liberal-National coalition Saturday, despite the fact that it has refused to cut down significantly on greenhouse gas emissions or coal during its time in power, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Tree lined street, UK. Richard Newstead / Moment / Getty Images

The UK government will fund the planting of more than 130,000 trees in English towns and cities in the next two years as part of its efforts to fight climate change, The Guardian reported Sunday.

Read More Show Less