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What is Illegal Logging?

Illegal logging is the unauthorized harvesting of trees, a practice that devastates ecosystems, disrupts indigenous communities, and distorts global timber markets. It's a complex issue with environmental, social, and economic implications. As we examine the far-reaching impacts of this illicit activity, consider how it affects not just forests, but the very air we breathe. What role might you play in this narrative?
Debra Durkee
Debra Durkee

Illegal logging occurs when trees are cut down in areas protected by law. Illegal loggers also target various species of trees that are endangered or protected. Forests in many areas of the world are protected, not only because of the species of trees they contain but because of the animals that live there.

In many instances, illegal logging takes place with the ultimate goal of selling the harvested timber. Furniture, paper, and other wood products made from illegally harvested wood can be found almost anywhere in the world, as many logs are exported using falsified documents. Activities such as creating these false shipping documents and tax fraud relating to the harvesting of trees are also a part of the illegal logging trade.

An undisturbed forest.
An undisturbed forest.

Illegal logging occurs on most continents and is a major problem in areas like the South American rain forests and throughout Indonesia. Sometimes the goal is not to harvest wood but to clear away protected forests. This happens on a regular basis in rain forests, where trees are cut down for the thin, rich layer of soil beneath them. These areas are used for farming until the nutrient-rich soil is depleted. Billions of dollars are transferred within the illegal logging trade every year.

An area of boreal forest that has been logged.
An area of boreal forest that has been logged.

The consequences of illegal logging are numerous. Species of animals and other plants that live in the world's forests can can become endangered or extinct with the loss of their habitats. Removal of a large number of trees in a certain area can also interfere with the ground water, which can in turn impact the water reserves of the area. In some places, the forests are closely tied to the livelihood of the people who live in or near them. On a larger scale, loggers who go about collecting their trees illegally bypass channels in which local governments receive payments for logging rights, depriving those governments and the people they serve of countless dollars.

An illegal logger working.
An illegal logger working.

In particular danger from illegal logging are trees that yield products not easily found elsewhere. Palm oil is made from trees that grow in Malaysian and Indonesian forests that are also among the last remaining natural habitats of the orangutan. When illegal loggers harvest these trees for their highly desired palm oil, they also destroy some of the last remaining areas where these apes survive in the wild.

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    • An undisturbed forest.
      An undisturbed forest.
    • An area of boreal forest that has been logged.
      By: Lars Johansson
      An area of boreal forest that has been logged.
    • An illegal logger working.
      By: Val Thoermer
      An illegal logger working.
    • Illegal logging has threatened the orangutan's habitat.
      By: Uryadnikov Sergey
      Illegal logging has threatened the orangutan's habitat.