Illegal Logging "Plagues" the Peruvian Amazon, Says New Research
GPS-referenced trees that do not exist is "one of the most commonly cited problems"
- April 17, 2014
- David Hill
- The Guardian
Attempts to establish sustainable logging practices in the Peruvian Amazon are encouraging illegal activities, according to a report published today by the open-access journal Scientific Reports.
Almost 70% of all the logging concessions inspected by Peru's authorities have been suspected of "major violations", states the report, and almost 50% have been cancelled "due to confirmed major violations." This means that out of the total 609 concessions in the entire Peruvian Amazon – 36% of which have not been inspected – almost 45% are either under investigation or have been cancelled.
One region – called Loreto, Peru's biggest, and the location for more than 40% of the concessions – has seen a 300% rise in the number of concessions recently cancelled.
Peru's logging system was overhauled by a Forestry Law in 2000 and supposedly strengthened by a trade agreement between Peru and the USA that came into force in 2009, but the new legal framework has been exploited for illegal purposes. The requirement to declare which individual, GPS-referenced trees will be cut in a one or five year period has led many loggers to, among other strategies, invent the existence of trees, log in other areas, and then claim such trees came from inside their concessions and use the paperwork from such concessions to "prove" it. The report, titled Logging Concessions Enable Illegal Logging Crisis in the Peruvian Amazon, states:
One of the most commonly cited problems [experienced by OSINFOR, the government's supervisory body] was not finding the stumps of the supposedly harvested trees at the coordinates stated in the [Annual Operating Plan]... The majority of logging concessions are enabling illegal logging outside the approved concession area. OSINFOR cited over 55% of the supervised concessions with timber extraction outside of the concession limits... Our analysis indicates that logging is not contained to delimited concessions and continues to threaten all forested areas, including protected areas and indigenous territories. Moreover, this illegal timber extraction takes place using the very regulatory documents designed to ensure sustainable logging.
According to the report, co-authored by four researchers from the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA), the Instituto de Pesquisos Ecológicas in Brazil and two universities in the USA, most of the violations concern "CITES-listed cedar species, cited in 57.8% of the supervised concessions" – CITES being an international treaty aimed at ensuring trade in wild fauna and flora does not threaten their survival.
"In nearly all of [the inspections done in 2009 or later] OSINFOR did not find the stumps of the supposedly harvested trees at the coordinates stated in the Annual Operating Plan," the report states. "At the heart of the problem is that authorities only check the regulatory documents in transport or at port arrival, well after the timber has left the forest. Likewise, the main field inspection also occurs post-harvest... Although the general failings of the Peruvian logging system have been known for years, we present an up to date, comprehensive analysis to identify the geographic scale and legal violations related to the problem. Illegal logging continues to plague the region."
In a press release announcing the report, one of the authors, CIEL's Melissa Blue Sky, called their conclusions "troubling", and another author, ACA's Matt Finer, described the situation as a "crisis... despite important reform efforts."
"OSINFOR deserves additional support, not less, as the office is increasingly criticized by loggers whose concessions have been canceled," Finer is quoted as saying.
"Such poorly managed or completely uncontrolled logging is a loss for nearly everyone," another of the authors, Clinton Jenkins, told The Guardian. "The Peruvian people will get less economic return than they could, particularly those who depend more directly on the forest such as some indigenous communities, while Amazonian biodiversity will continue to decline. The governments of Amazonian countries, including Peru, need to manage forests in an ecologically sensible manner, and they need to actually enforce the regulations."
Justin Pine, the fourth researcher, told The Guardian that "everybody loses" but "this issue cannot be pinpointed on Peru."
"The entire global forestry industry needs to improve management of logging practices, from producer to consumer, to ensure the longevity of the industry and forests," he says.
Peru passed a new Forestry law in 2011 maintaining the same general system, but it has yet to be implemented.
Almost exactly two years ago the NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) published a report which detailed the "systemically" corrupt, appalling and at times "magic" process by which Peruvian wood is exported to the USA.
EIA's report placed particular emphasis on the social conditions involved in the logging – migrant workers "kept almost as hostages", self-perpetuating debt traps, "sexual slavery practices", narco-traffickers and organized crime connections – as well as the strategies to confuse the authorities, including "lists of trees that do not exist in the real world" and discs of roundwood "planted" in the ground to look like real tree stumps.