How Poor Controls Facilitate Peru’s Illegal Logging

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As the United Nations climate change conference wraps up in Lima, one newspaper in Peru has given a breakdown of how faulty controls facilitate the country’s illegal timber trade — a driver of deforestation and violence against indigenous populations.

The problem centers on falsified inspection documents provided by the logging operations, and the government’s lack of follow-up and coordination to regulate the process. 

According to La Republica, despite the fact that numerous forestry consulting firms have provided illegal loggers with management plans containing false information — such as the number of species and trees in a given forest concession — as many as 75 of these firms remain active. One consultant in the southern Madre de Dios region, for example, reportedly signed 103 documents with false information, and continues to be recognized by the government as a legitimate inspector. 

No logger can legally extract wood without a plan drawn up and signed by one of these inspection firms. Regional authorities are not obligated to corroborate the information presented by consultants.

The falsification of information makes it possible for loggers to cut in areas other than those indicated in their plans — such as national parks or reserves — and sell the timber as if it had been legally extracted. One non-governmental organization estimates that forestry consultants charge around $1,700 for this illicit service.

The newspaper pointed to poor information sharing between Peru’s new national forest service (SERFOR) and the country’s forestry oversight body (OSINFOR) as one cause of this problem. Furthermore, OSINFOR lacks influence regarding which consulting firms can register with SERFOR, while SERFOR can fine corrupt firms, but cannot remove them from the registry. 

InSight Crime Analysis

La Republica’s report highlights how systemic weaknesses — and likely corruption within the system — help to perpetuate a highly damaging trade by allowing illegal loggers to dress up as legitimate businesses. Studies have indicated that up to 80 percent of timber logged in Peru is taken illegally. 

A similar phenomenon has been reported in Brazil, where “dirty” wood is “cleaned” when, for example, forestry officials issue logging credits for areas that will never be used for harvesting, which they later sell to illegal loggers. 

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Illegal logging is a major threat to Peru’s rainforest habitat, with cedar and mahogany particularly affected, in addition to other precious tropical hardwoods, according to La Republica.

The country’s indigenous population also suffers from the trade as illegal loggers encroach on their lands. In September this year, four indigenous activists protesting the trade were murdered, with illegal loggers the suspected perpetrators.

The widows of these men attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 20) — which ran from December 1 to 12 — to demand that the state provide them land titles, reported La Republica. 

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