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Permitting Crime: How Palm Oil Expansion Drives Illegal Logging in Indonesia

The clear-cutting of forests to make way for oil palm plantations is driving a wave of illegal logging in Indonesia, fundamentally undermining efforts to bring much-needed reform to the nation’s forestry and timber sectors.  A new report released by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Permitting Crime: How palm oil expansion drives illegal logging in Indonesia, reveals how a widespread culture of corruption and poor law enforcement is generating a flood of illicit timber as plantations surge into frontier forests. In-depth case studies of blatant violations of licensing procedures and other laws in Central Kalimantan – a hotspot for forest crime – detailed in the report include: outright violations of plantation…

Timber smugglers won’t heed China’s voluntary guidelines

Massive flows of illegal timber stolen from forests around the world will not be stemmed by voluntary industry guidelines currently being developed by the Chinese Government, environmentalists have warned. In formal comments recently submitted to the Chinese Government and published today, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has recommended the guidelines be replaced with a principled and legally enforceable ban on illegal timber trade into and within China. EIA’s comments were made in response to draft “Guidelines for Overseas Sustainable Forest Products Trade and Investment by Chinese Enterprises”, issued by China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA). In recent years, EIA has published a series of damning investigative reports exposing the methods and…

Urban trees saves hundreds of lives each year in America

A new national study of the way trees help clean the air in cities has shown that as many as 850 lives a year are saved across the United States each year and US$7 billion is saved in health care costs. Even though rural trees are more efficient at cleaning the air it is the urban trees found in densely populated areas that has the greatest impact on human health. The study was undertaken by the US Forestry Service and was the first nation-wide study to look at the estimate of air pollution removal by trees. The researchers calculated that trees were saving 850 lives a year and reducing the…

US$20 million peruvian hardwoods seized in international operation

An international operation involving Interpol and the World Customs Organisation (WCO) has seen US$20.6 million of illegal timber confiscated that had originated from Peru’s forests. Law enforcement officers from Brazil, China, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru took part in the operation and they were supported by Interpol offices spanning South America including the National Central Bureaus in Brazil and Peru, and Regional Bureaus in Argentina and El Salvador. In addition to seizing 15,000 m3 of timber officials also seized 2 ships used for transporting the illegal timber and timber-cutting machinery. Officials along the border with Brazil and port authorities targeted logging and timber shipments with increased checks to ensure any…

93% of logging in Mozambique is illegal

Insatiable Chinese demand for timber is driving a grossly unsustainable illegal logging and timber smuggling crisis which threatens to undermine Mozambique’s forest resources. Launching the new report First Class Crisis today, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) revealed that a staggering 93 per cent of logging in Mozambique during 2013 was illegal. Research, undercover investigations and analysis conducted by EIA from 2013-14 demonstrate that the key driver of forest crime in Mozambique is ongoing demand from China. Some 76 per cent of all global timber exports from Mozambique in 2013 were illegally cut in excess of reported harvests – and the vast majority of them (averaging 93 per cent from 2007-13)…

Myanmar’s rosewoods in crisis as Chinese imports rise 6 fold in 3 years

Myanmar’s precious rosewood tree species are heading for imminent commercial extinction at the hands of China’s multi-billion dollar rosewood furniture boom. The illegal trade in rosewood species is driven by the expanding wealthy elites in China and their desire for the high-end Ming and Qing dynasty reproduction furniture collectively known as ‘hongmu’. In the briefing Myanmar’s Rosewood Crisis released today, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reveals that if current trends persist unaddressed, the two most targeted hongmu species in Myanmar – tamalan and padauk – could be logged to commercial extinction within as little as three years. The briefing follows EIA’s May report Routes of Extinction, which documented how the…

UK government clarifies protection of public forest estate

The UK government has clarified the position of the public forests estate in relation to the Infrastructure Bill. Public owned forests will not be part of the land that the government is seeking to release to boost much-needed housing in the country. Public forests will be protected from being transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency. In response to increasing levels of mis-information that is currently being promoted by some groups Baroness Stowell released a statement in the House of Lords. In the statement she confirmed: “Clause 21 of the Infrastructure Bill is completely unconnected to the government’s stated policy to establish a new public body to hold the public forest…

New initiative to protect Africa’s forests

A new multi-national initiative has been launched at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) to try and protect what remains of east African forests and combat an illegal timber trade thought to be worth up to US$100 billion a year. The new action will involve Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda working together with Interpol and various UN agencies. The East Africa Initiative on Illegal Timber Trade and REDD+ will see multi-agency actions that aims to tackle illegal logging, timber and charcoal production. Africa’s forest cover is estimated at 675 million hectares, or 23 per cent of the continent’s total land area continent but is being lost at  staggering rate. It is estimated…

7 rangers killed in Ghana last year with total since 2011 now 69

Dr Samuel Afari Dartey, Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission of Ghana announced yesterday that since 2011 his service had lost 69 wildlife rangers and forest guards. This is an increase of 7 since the announcement last year at the launch of the new re-vamped forest service. While the number of rangers killed has fallen on previous years the killings means the rangers in Ghana are still facing high risks every time they go out on patrol. Last years speech by Dartey gave a commitment to boost the equipment and training given to rangers to help them operate more effectively. He also promised that the rangers would also work more closely…

Indonesian cop is jailed for eight years for major timber smuggling racket

Indonesian cop is jailed for eight years for major timber smuggling racket

Timber-smuggling Indonesian police officer Labora Sitorus has been jailed for eight years after a legal appeal overturned the shockingly lenient verdict handed down earlier this year by a court in West Papua. Low-ranking Sitorus was originally charged with illegal logging, fuel smuggling and money laundering but the Sorong-based officer was in February found guilty of just one charge – illegal logging – and was sentenced to just two years in prison with a US$4,000 fine. He was acquitted of money laundering, despite evidence showing US$127 million passed through his accounts. An appeal filed by the Prosecutors trying the case has now led to Sitorus being convicted of money laundering and jailed…

72% of Myanmar’s timber exports go ‘unlogged’

New analysis of the Myanmar Government’s forestry and trade data points to a multi-billion dollar illegal logging and exports black hole – indicating widespread criminality and official corruption. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) today released the new briefing Data Corruption: Exposing the true scale of logging in Myanmar, scrutinising official figures on log harvests and timber exports over the past 15 years. The figures, from the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, were published by Myanmar’s Eleven Media group earlier this month. Shockingly, official export figures for 2000-13 account for only 28 per cent of all recorded international trade in Myanmar logs – suggesting that 72 per cent of log…

Former timber kingpin a threat to orangutans and investors

Potential investors should steer clear of a US$90 million initial public offering (IPO) in an Indonesian palm oil company due to the involvement of a former illegal logging kingpin and the potential impact on precious orangutan habitat, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) warned today. The company, Sawit Sumbermas Sarana (SSMS), currently holds a land bank of 78,000 hectares in the Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan and is seeking investment to expand its palm oil plantation area through an IPO on the Jakarta stock exchange scheduled for today (December 12). The founder of SSMS is Abdul Rasyid, who currently controls all of the shares in the company through family members.…

CITES checklist now online

With 35,000 different species covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) it can be difficult for wildlife traders and customers to ensure that they have the adequate documentation and certificates. Many exotic pet or plant owners may not even be aware of the need for certification of some species. THat has all changed now with an easy to use web site that offer quick checking of species for any trade restrictions. The new online tool offered by CITES allows for checking of species by scientific name, common names, index listing or country of origin of species. With a few taps on a keyboard you can find out…

50,000 km of new roads built in Brazilian Amazon in 3 years

Between 2004 and 2007 50,000 km of new roads were built through the Amazon rainforest in Brazil alone. The new figures have been published following a study by Imperial College London. Their estimate means that each year nearly 17,000 km were cut through the forest. The study has been published in the journal Regional Environmental Change. Research co-author Dr Rob Ewers, of Imperial’s Department of Life Sciences, said: “Knowing where the roads are and the speed at which they are built is key to predicting deforestation. “A number of models currently exist which rely on this knowledge, but there are no good studies of how quickly roads get built and where they go when they…

Cheap green supercapacitors – made from wood

When you think of advanced electronics or heavy-duty electrical storage, trees may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But a team from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center has used wood waste to produce super capacitors that are as effective as advanced activated-carbon units. This offers extremely cheap and green opportunities for energy storage from wind and solar energy production. The new supercapacitors are made from biochar and waste products can be used for fertilizers offering a green alternative to the chemical processes needed to produce regular supercapacitors. “Supercapacitors are power devices very similar to our  batteries,” said study leader Junhua Jiang, a senior research engineer at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Illinois. “Supercapacitors are ideal for…

Breakthrough in biofuels from wood

Norwegian scientists have made a breakthrough in the production of biofuel from wood. The new process reduces the time that it takes to convert woodchips or sawdust into ethanol from weeks to just hours. This not only makes wood based biofuels economical to make but could reduce the competition between biofuel and food. “The time when we use food stock to make biofuel to power a car may soon come to an end. Currently, maize and sugar cane are used to produce biofuel,” says Finn Lillelund Aachmann, a biotechnology researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Aachmann thinks that the desire for people to have environmentally friendly fuel should not be at the…

How many trees are in the Amazon?

If you’ve ever pondered on how many trees are in the Amazon rainforest an international team of researchers may be able to answer your question. 89 institutions across the world came together to answer 2 fundamental questions – how many trees are in the Amazon rainforest and how many different species are there? Trying to estimate the number of trees that are found in the Amazon basin which covers countries as diverse and widespread as Peru, Brazil, Suriname and Guyana was never going to be easy but will provide essential information for conservationists.  Without the information Amazon researchers have a large gap in their understanding of the forest. “In essence, this means that the largest…

Eat less food or the forests gets it

A new study to be published in PlosOne has tried to model the relationship between deforestation, agricultural production, food consumption and the number of people on the planet. The conclusion is we’re eating too much food to reverse the decline in forests being chopped down. The model predicts that unless we substantially boost agricultural production or we consume less food then the forest cover of the planet will decline by another 10% over the next century. This will mean that just 22% of the land surface of the planet will remain forested. The model is released at a time when conservationists are trying to halt the decline in tree loss and even revere it to…

Crack anti-corruption team turn their sights on loggers

Indonesia’s crack anti-corruption agency are set to investigate financial dealings between police officers and arrested timber trader Labora Sitorus. The trader is suspected of handing over millions of dollars to police officers at all levels as part of his illegal logging, money laundering and fuel smuggling operations. Sitorus was an Adj. First Inspector in the Indonesian police force when he turned to trading in illegal timber. He was involved in major logging operations on the island of Papua which has the last remaining large-scale natural forests in the Indonesian archipelago. Last month papers were passed to the prosecuting authorities in Papua following police investigations. On his arrest in May National Police Commissioner M. Nasser criticised the…

Protecting 17% of land surface could conserve 67% of plant species

One of the goals of the  Convention on Biological Diversity 2010 is to ensure that at least 60% of plant species are conserved for future generations and that 17% of the planet’s land surface is protected. Careful consideration of where that 17% is placed could mean that 67% of plant species are conserved. Researchers from Duke, North Carolina State University and Microsoft Research used computer algorithms to identify the smallest set of regions worldwide that could contain the largest numbers of plant species. The results have now been published in Science journal. “Our analysis shows that two of the most ambitious goals set forth by the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity — to…