Stopping Illegal Logging


Forests are a vital resource for life on earth. They provide invaluable environmental, social and economic benefits to us all. Forests improve air and water quality, reduce soil erosion and act as a buffer against global warming. The forest industry also

Illegal logging is one of the main threats to forests today. There are high rates of illegal logging in most timber-producing countries in the tropics as well as in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. According to the most recent statistics available from Interpol, as of 2019:

  • illegal logging was tied to 15%–30% of global timber production
  • illegal logging accounted for 50%–90% of logging in many tropical countries
  • the estimated annual economic value of the trade in illegal wood was $50 billion to $150 billion, making it the world’s third-largest transnational crime, only after counterfeiting and drugs

Illegal logging has a particularly devastating effect on biodiversity because perpetrators often deliberately target remaining high conservation value forests—forests with outstanding biological, ecological, social, or cultural values—including protected areas, which contain trees overexploited elsewhere. Illegal logging also affects Indigenous peoples and local communities through the loss of natural forest resources and sometimes through intimidation and violence.

Illegal logging and trade take many different forms. At the forest level, it can include logging inside protected areas, logging protected timber species, extracting volumes beyond permitted amounts, and corruption associated with the issuance of forest licenses. Once the timber leaves the forests, illegalities can occur at various stages of transport, processing, and trade, such as laundering illegal wood with legal material during manufacturing, falsifying documents to disguise the true origin or identity of the wood, and bribing officials to avoid taxes and duties. 

Countries where illegal logging occurs use most of the illegal wood, but a significant percentage contaminates the international wood trade. While illegal logging is not widespread in the United States, the US is among the world’s largest importers and consumers of wood, including from some countries with high rates of illegal logging. As a result, we have a critical role to play in tackling illegal logging and the associated trade in illegal wood.

New study confirms FSC-certified forests help wildlife thrive in the Congo Basin

FSC-certified forests harbor a higher number of large mammals compared to non-certified forests.

Two elephants cross a river inside the heavily forested Congo Basin

Why It Matters


    Enormous amounts of carbon are released when trees are harvested illegally. Forest trees and other plants soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it away as they grow and thrive. Forests contain more than 660 gigatons of carbon, nearly 18 times the annual amount emitted by human activities.


    Habitat for wildlife—including tigers, jaguars, and gorillas—is threatened. Forests are home to most of the world’s diversity of life on land, and tropical rain forests are home to more species than any other terrestrial habitat.


    Illegal logging takes a toll on people. Many lose their livelihoods and source of income when illegal logging occurs. Some have died or been threatened trying to expel illegal loggers from forests.


    Illegal logging and trade rob developing country governments of hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tax revenues to the detriment of those countries’ citizens. And because it depresses prices, the illegal wood trade undermines companies trying to follow the law.

What WWF Is Doing

GFTN legally harvested timber

Tagging legally harvested timber.

WWF uses several approaches to confront illegal logging. One is ensuring that powerful policies are in place in the US and other countries. In the US, the most important policy related to illegal logging is the Lacey Act, passed more than 100 years ago to limit illegal wildlife trade. In 2008, WWF worked with a coalition of businesses and organizations to pass groundbreaking amendments to the Lacey Act that prohibit illegal timber and timber products from entering the US market. WWF focus is now on ensuring the amendments are properly funded, implemented, and enforced.

Forest Stewardship Council

When a wood product carries the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) logo it signifies the product was produced with wood that meets the rigorous environmental and social standards of responsible forestry. WWF helped create FSC in the early 1990s, and we continue to encourage US consumers to buy wood products that are FSC certified.

FSC logo

Eyes on the Forest

WWF works closely with Eyes on the Forest, an alliance of several nongovernmental organizations that monitors the drivers of deforestation in Sumatra and Borneo and shares information to support those working to protect critical habitat.

Wood Risk Tool

WWF developed a Wood Risk Tool to help companies, governments, nongovernmental organizations, and others assess and mitigate risks related to the origin and species of wood products, including illegality risk.