Crime and logging often go together. A major portion of the harvest, transport and processing of timber in both developing and developed countries does not comply with existing laws. Studies from Brazil, Canada, Cambodia, Cameroon, Indonesia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Russia document widespread illegalities. Loggers often break the law to reduce their tax burden, gain access to additional timber, avoid costly environmental and social regulations and buy the support of public officials. Breaking the law can bring them large profits and rarely involves significant costs.
Government officials find forestry laws hard to enforce because most logging occurs in dispersed and remote locations, which are difficult to monitor. Besides, most public officials have little incentive to systematically enforce the law. Doing so might provoke conflicts and force staff to work harder. For corrupt officials it would also mean losing an important source of income. In addition, forest regulations frequently require activities that companies find difficult to carry out under real life conditions. That, along with the bribes demanded by corrupt officials, can make it nearly impossible for a company to operate legally, even if it wants to.
Forest crimes have many victims. Each year, governments lose tens of billions of dollars in tax revenue that could have gone to build roads, hospitals and schools. The spread of corruption undermines the belief in government and the democratic process. Many logging camps have sub-standard living conditions. Poor logging practices cause extensive environmental
destruction and reduce long-term timber production.
Arnoldo Contreras’ ’Forest Law Enforcement, An Overview’, not only reviews the problem, it provides solutions. Contreras says the laws themselves need to be more realistic, with fewer and simpler rules. Unrealistic laws inevitably breed corruption. The media, NGOs and local communities should act as independent watchdogs that monitor forest activities and pressure governments to act. Policymakers must not allow processing capacity to greatly exceed the amount of timber that companies can legally harvest. Independent entities should audit the public forest agencies, carry out surprise controls and verify the consistency of the information the agencies provide. Penalties for committing illegal forest activities need to be increased. The use of remote sensing and tracking technologies can make it much easier to monitor illegal activities. Voluntary certification ought to help take some of the regulatory burden off public officials. Countries that import timber and other forest products can stop buying goods from illegal sources.
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