So-called ‘illegal logs’ are a big topic among legitimate US mill people concerned about price cuts affecting their profits. Others, however, might be generating more profits through using illegal material.
In his report, Dr Jim Bowyer challenges: "If you have in your product line wood that comes from anywhere in the tropics, the Russian Federation, or China, chances are good that a significant portion of that wood is of illegal origin. The fact you may be buying illegal wood matters. Illegality is directly linked to a number of problems, including corruption, financing of regional conflicts, forest loss and degradation, and the loss of billions in revenue to developing nations and to the domestic forest products industry".
Dr Bowyer, a retired University of Minnesota forestry professor, said The UK was one of the first governments to recognise the role of consumer countries in driving illegal logging, and the first to attempt to curb international trade in illegally logged timber. In 1997 the UK government issued voluntary guidelines for ministries regarding the purchase of timber and timber products from sustainable and legal sources. Implementation became mandatory in 2000.
In 2003 the European Commission announced an action plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) under which EU governments would develop and implement measures to address illegal logging and related trade.
Later in the year came the US Presidential initiative against illegal logging to help developing countries combat such logging, selling and exporting of illegally harvested timber and fighting corruption in the forest sector. At the time, US Secretary of State Colin Powell estimated that governments were losing US$10bn to US$20bn annually to illegal logging.
Dr Bowyer said most illegally produced timber is used domestically and does not enter international trade. Illegal logging constitutes about 1% of global softwood and hardwood combined, but ranges from 12 to 17% of roundwood entering international trade. However, he said as much as 23% of hardwood lumber and plywood traded globally, and 2 to 4% of softwood lumber and plywood, may arise from illegal logging.
He said nations in which illegal timber makes up the greatest proportion of harvest are Indonesia, China and other Asian nations, West and Central Africa, Russia, Malaysia, Brazil and eastern Europe.
Last year Japan began requiring that all timber and timber products be harvested in a legal manner consistent with the forest laws of timber producing companies and harvested from forests under sustainable management.
New Zealand, Norway, Canada, Australia and the US are exploring options for removing illegal timber from their markets, while the US and Indonesia have an agreement focused on halting the flow of illegal wood from Indonesia. The Forest Products Association of Canada adopted a statement committing to purchasing and using wood only from legal sources and, by 2008, to trace all fibre back to the originating forest area.
Dr Bowyer concluded: "If you are involved in the international trade of timber, you have a responsibility to help solve the illegality problem. Proactive action to investigate potential problems in your supply chain is the responsible thing to do. It could help restore value to international timber trade and help improve the image of the forest sector in the public’s eye".