Research and data on forest commodity supply chains and policy

When you read about the forests of Brazil, often what you read is heavily influenced by politically driven opinions blaming one side or another. But if you’re a forester, you understand that forestry issues are complex, and involve many people with many different points of view.

What is often missing from reporting on deforestation is a technical understanding of the complex causes underlying land-use decisions. In real life, rarely are changes in our landscapes 100% attributable to who is governing when and where. 

Forestry issues are almost never black and white issues. True ecologists understand that the issues involving forests and their ecosystems (including Homo sapiens) are much more complex than the flashy headlines typically dominating news about forests these days.

There are real pieces of the puzzle that we can look at to understand what we as consumers and buyers of wood products can do. One of them is understanding the time between illegal deforestation and enforcement of laws. 

Why? If the time between illegal deforestation and law enforcement is short, than we can presume that a) less illegally logged timber enters into our supply chains than would otherwise; and b) there would be less illegal logging in general since the risk to the landowner of being punished would occur before a reward (i.e. timber or agricultural sales).

On the other hand, if there is a long lag between illegal deforestation and enforcement of forest laws, then that increases costs to us as consumers and buyers of wood products because a) it increases the risk of illegal logs entering into wood product supply chains, and b) it likely increases the volumes of illegal logs on the market.

Ok, that makes sense, so how long can it really take between the time a forest is illegally cleared and law enforcement occurs. In Brazil, it can take many years. For example, let’s look at a recent case in Mato Grosso do Sul. 

On February 1, 2020, the Military Environmental Police inspected a farm in Camapuã and confirmed the illegal deforestation of 27.82 hectares of native forest. The owner was fined about $US 6,500. Here’s the thing… it was determined that the illegal deforestation occurred between November of 2015 and March of 2016.

In this case, by the time the laws intended to prevent illegal deforestation were enforced, the logs felled in the illegal land clearing likely already entered supply chains, already generated an illicit profit for the landowner, already replaced legal timber in the market, and likely already ended up in the hands of the end-user.

Shortening the time between illegal deforestation and law enforcement is a real way in which governments can reduce illegal wood from entering supply chains. Some parts of Brazil are doing just this.

The state of Mato Grosso is implementing a new illegal deforestation detection and enforcement system in 2020. Although it won’t stop all of the illegal logs entering supply chains (illegal deforestation is just one of the five main ways illegal logs enter wood product supply chains), this strategy can certainly help reduce illegal logging.

As buyers of wood products, it’s important to remember that although laws exist to prevent illegal logs from entering wood product supply chains, enforcement of these laws is often inadequate. The burden is on us to reduce the demand for illicit wood by being smarter consumers. So, how do we avoid buying wood from illegal deforestation?

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Header photo: Kleber Varejão Filho


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