The phrase “organized crime” typically conjures up images of drug trafficking or stolen-car rings. But it turns out that the illegal logging trade is just as lucrative — and far more destructive. Between 50 to 90 percent of forestry in tropical areas is now controlled by criminal groups, according to a new report (pdf) from the United Nations and Interpol.
Across the globe, deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, responsible for one-fifth of humanity’s emissions. Farming and logging both play big roles. What makes this area so difficult to regulate, however, is that a great deal of logging simply takes place illegally — much of it in tropical areas such as the Amazon Basin, Central Africa, and Southeast Asia. The U.N. estimates that illicit logging is now worth between $30 billion to $100 billion, or up to 30 percent of the global wood trade.
These rogue lumberjacks are growing more sophisticated, evading the efforts of countries to crack down. For instance, in the mid-2000s, it appeared as if illegal logging was on the wane in countries such as Indonesia, thanks to stepped-up law enforcement. But the numbers were deceptive. Illicit logging was either migrating to other tropical nations — such as Papua New Guinea or Myanamar — or simply eluding detection.