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The Green Life: Wooden You Like to Stop Timber Poaching?

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July 27, 2011

Wooden You Like to Stop Timber Poaching?

IStock_000001364276XSmall What's a lucrative brown material often smuggled across borders by armed men looking to evade the law? Think you've got it? Here's a twist: Most Americans use it every day. Still stumped?

Illegal wood poaching accounts for more than 80% of the total timber harvest in many developing countries. Illegal logging, classified as unregulated activity in harvesting and transporting timber, hurts economies and the environment. According to the World Bank, illegal logging operations cost governments up to $15 billion annually through lost tax revenue. Most such scams happen in biologically rich, environmentally sensitive regions like the Amazon rainforest and central Africa.

But with the advent of new technologies and regulations, illegal timber harvests may be getting chopped out. The EU's Environment Commission is considering implementing a bar-code system to monitor trees in protected areas so that they could be identified if sold. Brazil uses an internet tracking system to see how timber is being moved about the country. Researchers are also examining the use of DNA fingerprinting to identify where a piece of wood originated, a technology that'd be especially useful in protecting rare trees, like mahogany, that are hunted down individually and sold in small quantities.

Such technologies have already helped to curb the illegally logged haul, with the Chatham House think tank estimating that illegal timber takes have decreased more than 20% since 2002. The worldwide expansion of protected forest areas, including a Texas-sized increase in Brazil, is a major contributing factor.

But with drug cartels expanding their violent ways into the timber-poaching realm, it's still essential to find out who you're financing when you buy lumber. Buying FSC-certified wood is an easy way to play it safe, especially if you're undertaking a large-scale project or remodel. Companies like EcoTimber Flooring offer only sustainable wood options. To fight back more directly, help the Environmental Investigation Agency expose illegal logging in parks.

--Colin Griffin

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