Investigating Illegal Timber Guidebook

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Though tougher regulations may have been set in place on logging, timber resources continue to be taken illegally. Accountability and enforcement must accompany the regulations or they will be rendered meaningless.

As I’ve written about before, activists and local people play an important role in protecting forests from illegal harvest. A new resource, the Timber Investigation Centre, provides information and tools for groups and individuals alike to collect evidence of illegal logging.

The Centre was developed by Earthsight, an NGO focusing on environmental issues and the investigation of criminal activity. They also note the “links to consumption” that drive these crimes and markets. In the case of illegal logging, expensive and high quality wood is illegally felled and then moved into market in places like the United States, China, and Europe.

The Timber Investigation Centre’s 13 part guidebook explains how anyone can play a role in fighting against these illegal supply chains, and that the key problem with enforcing the laws is the difficulty in collecting evidence. The criminal aspect of the logging is sometimes not where the trees are located as may be expected, like in a protected forest or a space in which permits have not been issued, but rather the violation of other laws.

Screenshot of the "Investigating Illegal Timber" guidebook.

According to the guidebook, “corruption in permit allocation, over­harvesting within licensed areas, tax evasion, and the violation of statutory social safeguards” are common crimes that are not as easily proven by an activist as logging of protected trees. Many times, these trees can be sold in legitimate markets because the timber itself has no indication of being collected illegally.

The guidebook includes chapters on “desk­based” investigation, field work, and evidence assessment. The website also offers a collection of case studies to provide a context for the investigation techniques in the guidebook. These case studies, together with the conclusion of the guidebook, also offer a motivation and assurance that the techniques can be utilized to successfully conduct meaningful work in an important field. Check out their website for more information.