The World Bank estimates that every two seconds, an area of forest the size of a football field is clear-cut by illicit loggers around the globe. Illicit logging is an epidemic, particularly in Peruvian regions of the Amazon where as much as 80% of the areas logging exports are harvested illicitly. And the New York Times reported last week that this practice is facilitated by corruption in all levels of government; it is no secret that some authorities regularly accept bribes, and even encourage others to do so.
Preservation of the Peruvian Amazon is necessary for the conservation of the rainforest as a whole, but even with the passage of new laws to decrease illicit logging in Peru—in accordance with the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement of 2007—large amounts of illicit timber continue to fall through the cracks. Paperwork is forged in order to ship the wood, and in some cases, valuable types of wood are shipped out of the country under the pretense of cheaper wood varieties, in order to decrease suspicion.
In addition, due to successful efforts by neighboring countries to decrease illicit logging, pressure to extract lumber from the Peruvian portions of the Amazon has increased. Although the United States, Europe, and Australia have banned imports of illicit timber, the wood continues to wind up on the shelves of foreign retailers. Demand for cheap products is the main driver of illicit logging, and without proper law enforcement by local authorities, the destruction of the Peruvian Amazon will continue as long as the incentives to illicitly log outweigh the consequences.
The criminal organizations engaged in large-scale illicit logging activities control many aspects of the forestry sector, and despite the new laws created in response to the 2007 US trade agreement, the government has yet to address the issue of deep-seated corruption within their own ranks. Illicit logging threatens biodiversity, increases carbon emissions, and ultimately benefits criminal organizations at the expense of the greater population. We must find a way to effectively fight illicit logging through the criminal justice system, while simultaneously fighting the corruption within the system itself.