Wasteful Ending to Peruvian Timber Seizure Questions Effectiveness of Foreign Efforts to Reduce Illegal Logging

On Wednesday, the Associated Press released a story documenting new developments in the wake of the high-profile seizures of Peruvian lumber by U.S. authorities in the Port of Houston, Texas in late 2015.

To summarize, the seizures resulted in:

  • the exile of the former Chief of Peru’s forest inspection service due to death threats;
  • the destruction of 1,770 metric tons of lumber that was harvested, processed, and transported thousands of miles;
  • the loss of at least US$ 1.5 million from forest product value chains (bull-dozed in a landfill in Houston); and,
  • the loss of $140 million in Peruvian forest product revenue the last two years due to bad publicity.

Apparently, what the seizures did not achieve was stricter forest monitoring and law enforcement in Peru. In fact, the AP reports that the seizures resulted in the opposite effect, a loosening of monitoring and enforcement.

This case challenges claims that regulations like The Lacey Act benefit producer countries, and are good for forests. To the contrary, it illustrates how the application of these laws can be destructive and even a step backwards for forest governance, creating conflict.

And it suggests that reducing illegal logging at scale in tropical forests is unlikely to be sustained through foreign, top-down approaches such as the operation that lead to the Houston seizures.

Maybe sustainable solutions to level the playing field for legitimate forest enterprises require a different approach? One that begins with understanding the question: Why does illegal logging occur in the first place?

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