TIMBER Group continues battle against illegal timber trafficking

On April 19, 2023, as part of the Justice Department's Earth Week recognition, the department held an interagency roundtable on illegal timber trafficking. Officials announced the TIMBER Enforcement Working Group and explained how it will act as a force multiplier for U.S. enforcement efforts.

Illegal timber harvesting drives transnational crimes that negatively impact U.S. markets and the global economy. It contributes to deforestation and climate change, and the proceeds from illegal timber products can fund organized crime, terrorism and drug trafficking.

This is not just the wrongful logging of trees. In South America and Central America, for instance, criminals illegally log forests in the Amazon and hide cocaine in timber shipments to Europe. Other drug traffickers illegally log and raise cattle in protected areas in Central America to launder money and claim drug smuggling territory. 

The Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) is prioritizing the investigation and prosecution of timber trafficking offenses, and a year ago, on April 19, 2023, created the TIMBER Enforcement Working Group. 

Now, the enforcement efforts are starting to pay off. In February, for instance, a Florida couple pleaded guilty to a scheme to evade $42 million in duties by illegally importing and selling plywood.

"As we all are aware, criminals perceive great incentives to engage in timber trafficking, which has been identified as the third most profitable form of transnational organized crime, following only counterfeiting and illegal drug trafficking," said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim as he delivered remarks April 19 at the 1-year anniversary of the launch of the TIMBER Working Group.

"These crimes do more than just harm the environment by contributing to climate change and biodiversity loss. These crimes destabilize governments through corruption and loss of lawful tax revenues to take care of the public good. They fund criminal or terrorist organizations who use the monies from these crimes to fund other illicit activities. And they disadvantage law-abiding businesses who invest in compliance but are undercut in the marketplace, and who then have smaller profits, are forced to employ fewer people or are driven out of business entirely. In short, these crimes have real-life global consequences in a multitude of ways that can’t be ignored."

Todd said that enforcement efforts to stem illegal harvesting are competing against time to slow or stop the effects of these crimes. Twenty-one trees were felled per second in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest in 2021, according to MapBiomas, a Brazilian project created to reveal transformations in the Brazilian forests. 

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), 10 football fields’ worth of tropical primary forest were lost every minute in 2023. The World Animal Foundation estimates the world is losing 137 species of plants, animals and insects every day because of deforestation. This is about 50,000 species a year. And, Global Witness estimates that an environmental defender was killed at a rate of every other day in 2022.

"These are a few examples of the impact of illegal logging on the world’s forests and the species that depend on them," he said. "While these numbers are only estimates, they are undeniably sobering numbers that are just the beginning of being able to understand the impact of these crimes."

He added that the response to these are growing. "Since the United States became the first country to criminalize the transnational trafficking of plants and plant products, including timber, with the 2008 Lacey Act amendments, the global community has taken notice. The United Kingdom, European Union, Australia, Japan and other nations have followed suit by passing similar laws."






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Larry Adams | Editor

Larry Adams is a Chicago-based writer and editor who writes about how things get done. A former wire service and community newspaper reporter, Larry is an award-winning writer with more than three decades of experience. In addition to writing about woodworking, he has covered science, metrology, metalworking, industrial design, quality control, imaging, Swiss and micromanufacturing . He was previously a Tabbie Award winner for his coverage of nano-based coatings technology for the automotive industry. Larry volunteers for the historic preservation group, the Kalo Foundation/Ianelli Studios, and the science-based group, Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST).