Occasionally, you hear a little about illegal logging in the media, imagining it to be a blight on forestry and the sustainability of timber world wide by a few “nasty and selfish” people. Of course, this is barely scratching the surface of a very complex issue that involves massive amounts of money, corruption, money, people, money, demand for timber, and did I mention money?
CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) is a multilateral treaty that was set up to enforce an international standard upon conservation and sustainability, primarily through the regulation of trade. Currently CITES lists roughly 5,000 species of animals and 29,000 species of plants that are protected against over-exploitation through international trade. Needless to say, if it needs protecting from exploitation, someone is making a dollar exploiting it. Illegal logging is thought to account for 73% of logging in Indonesia, 50% in Cameroon, 80% in Brazil, 20-50% in Russia and 50% in Estonia. That is a lot of wood and it is worth a lot of money – somewhere around $10 billion annually – and is often linked to organised crime groups.
When you consider just how rare some of these wood species are, it is no surprise that the value of the illegal timber is so high, which in turn drives the trade in illegal timber. An example is the much sought after rosewood and ebony from Madagascar. These woods are worth $11 per kilo, which means the average shipping container (~22 tonnes) can be a quarter of a million per container. With 1,137 containers, or more 24,560 tonnes, exported annually, then the illegal timber trade from Madagascar is worth over $270 million per year.
And don’t think that the rich countries aren’t involved, who do you think buys the stuff? In my own country of Australia, it is estimated that $400 million of illegal timber is imported, which is 9% of the imported timber. But that isn’t to say that Australia doesn’t have its own illegal loggers, sandal wood being a favourite, along with our hardwoods.
So maybe it is time for everyone to think about how they get wood.