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Timber

Overview

Increasing global demand for low-cost timber products supports a multi-billion dollar business of illegal and unsustainable logging in forests worldwide. According to some estimates, logging in violation of national laws accounts for 8-10% of global production and trade in forest products. It also represents 40-50% of all logging in some of the most valuable and threatened forests on earth. Consumption of tropical timber by the U.S. and other industrial countries plays a significant role in tropical deforestation.

Trade in forest products has increased significantly over the past 50 years, especially in processed wood products such as sawn timber, pulpwood, board, and wood-based panels. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, wood-based panel trade has skyrocketed 800 percent in the past three decades.

The world's natural forests cannot sustainably meet the soaring global demand for timber products under current forest management practices. According to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), approximately 24.7 million acres of fast-wood plantations—or commercially planted forests— exist worldwide. Each year around 2.5 million acres of land is converted to fast-wood forests. While intensive production is essential to meet global demand and take pressure off of the world’s forests, there can be significant negative impacts of these plantations. Some have been created from the conversion of high conservation value natural forests, and some have resulted in significant social and environmental impacts.

WWF believes that demand for responsible forest products in international trade can provide enormous incentives for sustainable forest management. However, in the absence of appropriate forest management policies, environmental and social safeguards, and responsible demand, trade can negatively impact forest conservation.

Did you know?

Consumption of tropical timber by the U.S. and other industrial countries plays a significant role in tropical deforestation.

Working together for responsible forest management

Kerry Cesareo, WWF's Managing Director of Forests, discusses how forest stewardship can help protect vulnerable forests from illegal logging, encroachment and conversion to farmland.

Stream in temperate forest

Impacts

Forests around the world are accessed to supply furniture, flooring, lumber, and other building materials to the booming global marketplace. Responsible practices by companies throughout the forest products supply chain can avoid the worst impacts of illegal or unsustainable logging.

Effects of Climate Change

Deforestation causes 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which contributes to climate change. Greenhouse gases are released when forests are destroyed by activities such as illegal and unsustainable logging and from land conversion for agriculture.

Timber Marginalized indigenous Local Communities

Biodiversity Loss

Timber Biodiversity

When forest cover is removed, biodiversity can be severely impacted. Wildlife can lose their shelter, food sources and migration routes, and become more vulnerable to human-wildlife conflicts, hunting and poaching as new logging roads extend into previously unlogged areas. About 80% of the world's documented species can be found in tropical rainforests, which means deforestation threatens a majority of the Earth’s biodiversity.

Poor forest management promotes soil erosion by increasing runoff and reducing the protection of the soil provided by tree litter. When tree cover thins, damp soils of the forest floor heat up and dry out, changing the forest’s delicately balanced ecosystem.

Marginalized Indigenous and Local Communities

Increased global demand for valuable timber species such as mahogany has brought some financial benefits for poor communities living near to forests. But there is also evidence to show that usually, poor communities who are completely dependent on forests lose out to powerful interests, logging companies who reap most of the benefits.

Lost Revenue

When trees are cut without the correct permits and then smuggled abroad, governments lose revenue from taxes and duties – revenue that could be used to better enforce laws and reduce illegal logging. According to the World Bank, the global market loses $10 billion annually from illegal logging, and governments lose an additional $5 billion. Timber that is logged without payment of duties and taxes decreases the market price and provides an incentive for other loggers to follow the same practice. This disadvantages law-abiding companies, as they can get undersold by companies that evade these taxes and fees through illegal practices.

What WWF Is Doing

Promoting Responsible Forestry

Through our Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN), we work with forest managers, manufacturers and purchasers from across the forest industry supply chain to promote responsible production and trade of forest products. GFTN forest and trade experts in 34 countries provide technical assistance to forest managers to achieve credible forest certification through a step-wise approach. We help manufacturers achieve chain-of-custody certification to track those responsible products. And we work with buyer companies such as retailers to preference those responsible forest products.

Advancing Credible Certification

Timber

Credible certification contributes to a more sustainable timber products industry by helping create market conditions that support forest conservation. Such conditions also provide economic and social benefits for local communities, workers, and the environment. WWF considers the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) the most rigorous and credible voluntary certification system to ensure environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of forests around the globe.

Creating a Level Playing Field

In addition to voluntary certification and initiatives such as WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) national and international laws, regulations and trade rules are essential to combat illegal logging, promote responsible forest practices, and create a level playing field for companies in the forest products sector. In the U.S., WWF advocates for the Lacey Act, the first law of its kind to prohibit the import, sale or trade of wood and wood products in the U.S. that were illegally sourced in their country of origin, or illegally traded. WWF also works with non-governmental organizations around the world to establish a licensing system for legal timber in the European Union, which forms voluntary partnerships between the EU and individual timber-producing countries.