Where there’s a will…


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When asked to name the worst part of his job, the district-level forestry official quickly answered, “Going out on patrol”. Poorly equipped, at risk of violent encounters, and resented by local communities, his attitude towards forest law enforcement is probably typical of many foresters, especially in developing countries. Without adequate support from higher levels of government and local communities, their efforts to stop forest crime are both thankless and ineffective.

In Illegal Logging: Law Enforcement, Livelihoods and the Timber Trade, Luca Tacconi and his colleagues identify several causes of illegal logging which help to illuminate the district forester’s predicament. Local communities often do not perceive illegal logging to be harmful or illegitimate, and their position may be supported by local governments. In Indonesia following decentralization, for example, the distinction between legal and illegal logging became blurred as district governments began issuing permits for timber extraction considered illegal by the central government.

And while there may be real resource and capacity constraints on the ability of forestry agencies to tackle illegal logging, Tacconi suggests that lax government attempts to control forest crime may reflect the priority given to other objectives. “Collusive” corruption – in which government officials and private actors work together to steal state timber resources – is particularly difficult to root out. Tacconi asserts that efforts to strengthen the capacity of forestry agencies to overcome forest crime will be ineffective without strong government commitment to that objective.

While acknowledging that illegal logging is driven by social and political factors beyond the control of the individual forest manager, William Magrath and his colleagues nevertheless see value in strengthening efforts to prevent timber theft at the level of the forest management unit. In Timber Theft Prevention: Introduction to Security for Forest Managers, they argue that forest crime is largely predictable, and therefore preventable, up to a point. Even though the underlying causes of burglary may be complex, it doesn’t make sense to leave your doors and windows unlocked. The study provides a number of practical measures that can be applied in a wide range of situations faced by forest managers.

Borrowing concepts from the fields of asset protection and industrial security, the authors illustrate how managing the risk of theft can be integrated into forestry planning and operations. Success depends on clarity regarding what is “legal” and what is “illegal”, and engagement with local communities to ensure that their incentives are aligned with increasing forest security. “Social fencing” can help control criminal trespass in forest areas, in addition to such simple measures as blocking or decommissioning access roads. The study also provides a list of “red flags” to alert authorities to fraud in timber-related transactions.

So, is it worth investing in forest law enforcement in light of the complex underlying causes of forest crime outlined by Tacconi et al? In his concluding chapter, Magrath says that forest security begins with public policies for good governance, and that development aid should target governments that are prepared to take proactive steps to prevent illegal logging. Our district forester needs both government commitment and practical tools to do his job. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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Further reading

Luca Tacconi. 2007. "Illegal Logging and the Future of the Forest". Chapter 12 in Illegal Logging: Law Enforcement, Livelihoods and the Timber Trade. The Earthscan Forest Library. http://www.earthscan.co.uk/?tabid=1434

Oliver Springate-Baginski and Piers Blaikie. 2007. Forests, People and Power: The Political Ecology of Reform in South Asia. The Earthscan Forest Library http://www.earthscan.co.uk/Default.aspx?tabid=1133

If you would like to get the PDF file of chapter 12: “Illegal Logging and the Future of the Forest”, please contact Rizka Taranika at r.taranita@cgiar.org