The global problem of illegal logging

David Brancaccio Oct 23, 2013
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The global problem of illegal logging

David Brancaccio Oct 23, 2013
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[UPDATED 10/23/13 10:00am] Lumber Liquidators’ quarterly profits out Wednesday show net income is up 58 percent and sales are up about 25 percent.  That news comes as a federal probe continues into the household wood products company.

Shares fell 9 percent last month in the days that followed a search by federal authorities of the Virginia-based company’s offices. The case is believed to be connected to concerns the company may have been knowingly or unknowingly selling hardwood that was been illegally poached. 

Lucas Powers is a reporter who has done first hand research into illegal logging around the world — in places like Indonesia, Cameroon, and Russia — as part of an investigative project at the University of British Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. He says illegal logging has had a devastating impact on forests around the world, like in Russia.

“It’s the workers on the ground who are trying to cut trees down to feed their families — at the same time, they’re depleting the very resource they depend upon,” Powers says. “You can drive for hours through the Russian country, and you see forests in every direction, and you think, ‘Wait a second, there’s trees everywhere.’ But upon closer inspection, what you realize is that these are all second growth forests. They have all been logged out.” 

Powers says there is some hope on the horizon, and that the U.S. is leading the world in efforts to stop illegal logging.

“The United States sort of took the lead on this in 2008 — they amended the Lacey Act, which is a century old wildlife-timber act, and they amended specifically to focus on illegal timber,” Powers says. “What this does is it puts the onus on retailers — like Lumber Liquidators, like Walmart — and says, if you don’t know where your wood is coming from, you can be held criminally responsible for that.”

Interpol estimates that as much as 30 percent of timber is black market. If you want to see an elegant use of digital media to explore an important public policy issue, check out this website from the International Reporting Project.  

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