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

In Peru, illegal logging happens at a rate of approximately 80 percent. The rate is 85 percent in Myanmar and nearly 65 percent in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many other countries have a lower, but equally concerning, amount of illegal logging happening within their borders.

Illegal logging is not widespread in the US, but we are the world’s largest importer and end user of wood, including from some countries that have high rates of illegal logging. And the US is one of the world's largest consumers of forest products. As a result, we have a tremendous role to play in tackling illegal logging—which often happens in critical species habitat—and the associated trade of such wood.

Illegal logging is the lead cause of degradation of the world’s forests. It includes the harvesting, transporting, processing, buying or selling of timber in violation of national laws. Some examples include

  • Trees are harvested from protected areas and then traded illegally.
  • Trees are extracted at volumes significantly higher than is permitted.
  • Licenses to cut down trees are falsified.

Stopping Illegal Logging in Africa

Many wood products in American homes—from the kitchen table to hardwood floors—come from the same forested areas in Africa where elephants, rhinos, lions and other magnificent species roam wild. Few purchasers know that the wood from these forests is illegal. It was harvested, transported, processed, bought or sold in violation of national laws.

forest in kenya

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. Tropical forests alone hold more than 210 gigatons of carbon, seven times the amount emitted each year by human activities.

  • Habitat for wildlife—including tigers, jaguars and gorillas—is threatened. Forests are home to more than three-quarters of the world’s life on land, and tropical rainforests are home to more species than any other terrestrial habitat. A square kilometer of forest may be home to more than 1,000 species.

  • 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.

  • The global illegal timber trade, which is estimated by the United Nations at between $30 billion and $100 billion annually, robs developing countries of tax revenue and lowers the market price of timber from companies that follow the law. In the US, for example, the wood products industry loses as much as $1 billion annually from illegal logging.

What WWF Is Doing

GFTN legally harvested timber

Tagging legally harvested timber.

WWF uses several approaches to tackle 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 is now focused on ensuring the amendments are properly funded, implemented and enforced.

Global Forest and Trade Network

WWF provides guidance on best practices related to legality and responsible sourcing to hundreds of companies around the world, including 11 in the US that participate in our Global Forest & Trade Network-North America program. Guidance from WWF, as well as the amendments to the Lacey Act, are inspiring companies to make smarter sourcing decisions and monitor their global timber supply chains to assess and address risks and avoid illegal timber.

Eyes on the Forest

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

Forest Stewardship Council

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label means the product was produced with wood that meets rigorous environmental and social standards of responsible forestry. WWF helped create the FSC nearly 20 years ago and we continue to encourage US consumers to buy wood products that are FSC certified.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

WWF works to ensure that the The Trans-Pacific Partnership—a trade agreement the US is negotiating with 11 other countries—includes conservation provisions, such as prohibiting trade in resources and wildlife that are harvested or exported in violation of national laws that protect wildlife, forest or marine resources.