Illegal logging

Illegal logging occurs in all types of forests, across all continents, from Brazil to Canada, Cameroon to Kenya, and from Indonesia to Russia, destroying nature and wildlife, damaging communities and distorting trade.

Illegal logging in elephant habitat, Sabah, Malaysia.
© A. Christy Williams / WWF

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Counting the cost

What is illegal logging?

Illegal logging is the harvesting, transporting, processing, buying or selling of timber in violation of national laws. This definition also applies to harvesting wood from protected areas, exporting threatened plant/tree species, and falsifying official documents. It also includes  breaking license agreements, tax evasion, corrupting government officials and interfering with access and rights to forest areas.

Causes of illegal logging

Illegal logging exists because of increasing demand for timber, paper and derivative products (including packaging). Illegal logging can also happen when forests are cleared for plantations such as oil palm.

But not all wood removal is due to trade. In fact, at a global level around half of removed wood is woodfuel used for basic energy needs.

Illegal logging is a major problem in the Congo Basin and the Amazon. But it also happens in Canada and across Europe.


Economic impacts of Illegal Logging

Illegal logging activities leave an obvious mark of destruction in forests - gaping holes, where once stood ancient trees.

But there’s another cost: lost revenue that may have been generated from legal logging of forests. So what’s the bill for illegal logging?

When trees are cut without the right permits and are smuggled abroad, governments lose out financially in several ways including lost revenue from taxes and duties and the costs of efforts to manage illegal logging.

A vicious circle that pushes down the market price of timber

Timber that is logged without payment of duties and taxes pushes down the market price of timber, which acts as an incentive for other loggers to follow the same practice. This further increases losses to governments.

A study by the American Forest & Paper Association has estimated that illegal logging depresses world timber prices by between 7% and 16% (depending on product). This causes US firms losses of at least US$460 million each year.

Globally, billions of dollars lost each year

The World Bank states that the annual global market loses US$10 billion annually from illegal logging, with governments losing an additional US$5 billion in revenues.

Why does it continue?

  • High demand for timber products from Europe, US, Japan and increasingly from emerging economies such as China
  • Weak law enforcement
  • Poorly implemented trade rules

Social Impacts of Illegal Logging

Illegal logging threatens some of the most valuable forests globally – from the Amazon to the Russian Far East. And yet, for many of the people that live in these forests, illegal logging is a vital source of income - sometimes it is the only way to survive. But at other times it threatens their lives.

Increased demand for forests products has brought some financial benefits for poor people living near to forests. But there is also evidence to show that usually, poor communities who are completely dependent on forests lose out to powerful interests, logging companies and migrant workers who reap most of the benefits.

How does this happen? Around the world, many forest-dwelling communities have little control over ownership of their land. This makes them vulnerable to outsiders who try to gain access to their forest, which may cause repression and human rights violations. Or just plain exploitation.

US$1 for a villager, US$10 from your wallet

For example, a small community in Papua Province, Indonesia, can receive approximately US$11 for a cubic metre of hardwood. When the cubic metre enters a Chinese port for processing, its price has already reached US$240.

As a finished product, waiting to be bought on a furniture shop rack in a EU country or the US, this cubic metre will be worth 10 times that much. Meanwhile, back in Papua, the same community will be intently seeking buyers to sell more cubic metres – earning themselves a tiny income while they lose their forests.

Making wood legal requires more than good will

Where communities try to sell timber from their land, they often do not have the means to comply with management requirements for legal logging. Community ‘forest management plans’ are expensive and since local markets are flooded with cheap, illegal products, this makes legal produce uncompetitive.

When implementing the law can make things harder

Where strong laws exist on illegal logging, putting them in practice can still be ineffective because of lack of legal independence or because those enforcing the law may be corrupt. Too often, crackdowns unfairly single out poor people and small-scale operators and simply bypass well-connected and protected people.
 / ©: WWF / Alain COMPOST
Illegal loggers clearing a swamp forest for a palm oil plantation. Central Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia.

How you can help

Don't support illegal logging! Do you know where your bookshelves came from? What about those picture frames? Be an informed consumer and always look for FSC certification when buying wood and wood products.

Help protect the Amazon! Looking for a unique gift for someone special? Why not help them protect the world's largest rainforest through the WWF gift shop.

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