Forest crimes and the international trade in illegally-logged timber

Humphreys, David (2016). Forest crimes and the international trade in illegally-logged timber. In: Eliott, Lorraine and Schaedla, William H. eds. Handbook of Transnational Environmental Crime. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 168–189.



In September 2012, and following months of detailed investigations in Latin America, North America and Europe, INTERPOL's Environmental Crime Programme launched its first international operation against illegal logging. Across 12 countries in Central and South America, law enforcement agencies in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala,, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela raided retail premises and carried out inspections of vehicles carrying timber at transport centres and shipping ports. The operation was carried out under INTERPOL's Project Leaf (Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests), which brings together police, customs, other law enforcement agencies and international organizations in order to tackle forest crimes. By the time the operation wound down some two months later, more than 50 000 cubic metres of illegally logged timber had been seized with an estimated retail value of US$8 million. An INTERPOL spokesperson said that the intelligence gathered during the operation would be used for further actions against the illegal timber trade (INTERPOL 2013).

The INTERPOL operation revealed the vast scale of both transnational forest crimes and international cooperation to address the problem. This chapter begins by examining some of the types of criminality associated with the trade in illegally logged timber. Illegal logging is part of a broader problem of malpractice and crime associated with the timber trade. In many countries , politicians use the allocation of timber concessions as a mechanism for rewarding supporters and leveraging bribes. Forest spaces also conceal other illegal activities such as drug cultivation, illegal mining, the forced exploitation of labour and guerrilla armies. The second part of the chapter examines the international policy responses to the problem. Until the mid-1990s, illegal logging was considered a country-level issue to be addressed by national policies in the countries afflicted. Since then a number of governments and international organizations have taken measures to eliminate the trade in illegally logged timber and various bilateral, regional and international measures have been adopted.

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