Diane talks with Annie Lowrey, staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers economic policy.
Guest Host: Susan Page
The U.S. is one of the largest consumers of wood and paper products. Recent investigations into illegal logging in Russia, the Amazon, South East Asia and Africa indicate it’s a widespread and highly lucrative enterprise. It’s also highly destructive – causing the loss of ancient forests and habitats critical to wildlife. And chances are American consumers are unwittingly contributing to the problem. Some environmentalists believe one solution is to track every step of the supply chain to ensure products that make it to the American market come from legal wood. Join guest host Susan Page and her guests as they discuss illegal logging and its impact on wildlife and the environment.
- Alexander "Sascha" von Bismarck Executive director, EIA (Environmental Investigation Agency)
- Cindy Squires Executive director, the International Wood Products Association
- Brad Kahn Communications director, Forest Stewardship Council U.S.
- Linda Walker Director, Responsible Forestry and Trade, World Wildlife Fund
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's out with the flu. The Justice Department recently settled a criminal case against Lumber Liquidators, the nation's top hardwood flooring retailer. The crime, illegal imports of wood flooring much of it made in China from timber illegally logged in Russia's far east. The DOJ noted the logging occurred in the habitat of the world's last remaining Siberian tigers and Amur leopards.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThe case highlights the connection between illegally sourced timber and endangered wildlife. Joining me in the studio to talk about global deforestation, illegal logging and what American consumers need to know about the wood and paper products they buy, Alexander "Sascha" von Bismarck of EIA, the Environmental Investigation Agency, Cindy Squires of the International Wood Products Association, Linda Walker of the World Wildlife Fund and from a studio at KUOW in Seattle, Brad Kahn of the Forest Stewardship Council US. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. ALEXANDER "SASCHA" VON BISMARCKThanks very much.
MS. CINDY SQUIRESThank you.
MS. LINDA WALKERThank you.
MR. BRAD KAHNThanks for having us.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, it's 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Sascha von Bismarck, tell us about this remarkable undercover operation that your organization did in Russia.
BISMARCKThank you, yeah. Well, it started way back in 2007 and I think that's significant because this part of the world has been a epicenter for one of the great forests of the world, the most bio diverse northern forest, but also, unfortunately, very serious organized crime and a real epidemic of illegal logging, meaning that forest was just being cut down against all the rules. And so we looked at that way back when and showed the extent of the problem and then, unfortunately, it just kept going.
BISMARCKAnd we went back in 2012 to really find the worst actors, find the information on the ground, who was doing the logging, where was the wood going. And in doing that, I actually almost literally bumped into the stacks of wood that were going to lumber liquidators.
PAGEAnd what kind of operation was this? You traveled there, you didn't tell folks what you were looking for. How did it go about?
BISMARCKYeah. I mean, that's what folks -- I know my organization, we're relatively small, but we try to investigate the biggest environmental crimes around the world and sometimes you have to go undercover to really show the reality of how particularly global trade contributes to it because it's done out of sight, really, of many authorities. So we went undercover pretending to be various forms of buyers and were looking to buy the wood so we were really in the position that Lumber Liquidators was as a buyer.
BISMARCKAnd we went to their -- well, we looked for the illegal logging and we bumped into their main supplier.
PAGEWere you surprised by what you found?
BISMARCKWell, we knew that the problem of illegal logging was devastating, but of course, you know, it's going to the Chinese factory which was sending its stuff all around the world so the wood could've been going to -- stayed in China. It could've going to Europe. It could've been going everywhere. And to find that the single biggest customer of the worst actor doing most of the illegal logging in the tiger habitat was actually in the United States and was the biggest flooring retailer in the United States was actually shock, particularly because it comes after the U.S. passed this leading law to say that illegal wood is no longer allowed to be traded in the United States.
PAGEIn the interest of full disclosure, let me note that Lumber Liquidators is an NPR sponsor whose credits are on air and on NPR.org. We invited Lumber Liquidators to join our program. The company denied, but they gave us -- declined the opportunity to join us. They did send us a statement, which reads, in part, "Lumber Liquidators is committed to having a positive, lasting impact on the future of our communities, customers and company. We have collaborated with the DOJ to develop an environmental compliance plan.
PAGEThe program is designed to insure an unbroken and verified chain of custody and documentation of our products from the store all the way to the forest." Sascha, just a last question to you. Are you confident that Lumber Liquidators is no longer engaging in these practices?
BISMARCKI wouldn't say confident, but I mean, the point is that when it's creating new deterrents and new incentives for companies to make better decisions around the world, I'm confident that this is hopefully a sea change for companies everywhere, certainly for the CEOs of Lumber Liquidators to, you know, don't create a business model that looks for illegal wood because it's cheaper and invest in trying to find legal wood around the world.
BISMARCKAnd it certainly, I think, a sign for everybody that is trying to do that that they have some backup, that there is hope for a level playing field where if you don't want to be part of that kind of destruction, you can still be successful.
PAGENow, Cindy Squires, you're executive director of the International Wood Products Association. Lumber Liquidators is a member of your group.
PAGEAnd should Americans feel confident that they're no longer engaging in these practices?
SQUIRESWell, I can't speak for Lumber Liquidators. Obviously, they spoke for themselves. But I can say that industry is taking this very seriously. We've done a tremendous amount of outreach to make sure that the industry understands both what happened in the Lumber Liquidators case. There's a very detailed statement of facts that is quite helpful because it illustrates particular issues and what the concerns with them were.
SQUIRESWe have engaged in a very long process, a very deliberative process of developing an education program for our members. We worked with WRI, the World Resources Institute, USAID and, in fact, Linda Walker, who's here, she was one of my advisors on that course. And we will be launching that course. We've already done a test of it and we will be launching it nationwide and also expect to be doing that course in China as well. And a big part of that effort is to teach our members so that they understand exactly what is required under the law.
SQUIRESIt's an odd law because it just has a prohibition. It doesn't provide a recipe for exactly how one fulfills the mandate of that law and so what we're trying to do is fill out some of those blanks for them.
PAGELinda Walker, you are director of the Responsible Forestry and Trade Division of the World Wildlife Fund. Tell us why we should care in terms of the nation's wildlife, the world's wildlife for whether illegal logging is going on.
WALKERWell, thank you. World Wildlife Fund and the five million members that we have around the world care about illegal logging and we believe that consumers should care about illegal logging because it's having a devastating impact on some of the most important forest areas around the world. It's having an impact on the important services related to climate and watershed protection those forest provide. And it's having a significant impact on the wildlife that our organization strives to protect, as well as the local communities that need those forests for their survival.
PAGESo what kind of animals would be affected, say, by the illegal logging that we heard about taking place in Russia?
WALKERYeah. Well, as Sascha said, the Russian far east is home to about 500 of the last remaining Amur tigers. It's a subspecies of tiger that is highly endangered, as well as fewer than 100 Amur leopards that are also in that area. And I've actually been to the Russian far east and seen myself the impacts of this kind of illegal logging. We were there in early winter and saw a tiger track in the snow and about five minutes later, pulled around the corner into a protected area, national wildlife refuge, and saw this brigade of illegal loggers cutting Mongolian oak in broad daylight.
WALKERSo we were -- they were using these old Russian surplus vehicles and we knew that the logs were probably shipped into China to be made...
PAGESo what did you -- so you came upon these loggers and by cutting down the logs, they destroyed the habitat for these leopards and tigers.
PAGEWhat did you do?
WALKERWell, we took pictures of them and started asking questions, but they didn't seem to care too much and that's the tragedy of it, it's that there's -- a lot of this logging is going on in broad daylight without a lot of scrutiny. And so that's the concern we have, both in the Russian far east and in other parts of the world like in the Congo basin in Southeast Asia and Indonesia and parts of the Amazon and in the greater Mekong where there's equal concerns about illegal logging and the effects on wildlife.
PAGEBrad Kahn, your group is the Forest Stewardship Council. Tell us what you do.
KAHNYeah. The Forest Stewardship Council really exists so consumers, businesses, but also individual consumers, can have a pretty straight forward way to identify products from responsibly managed forests, certainly legal forest management is the foundation, but also things like forest managers that protect water quality or protect habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species or just high conservation value for us. That can also get into traditional rights for indigenous peoples who've used forests for many, in some cases, many thousands of years.
KAHNSo we're really meant to be a way for people to do the right thing, identify products that come from responsibly managed forests.
PAGEYou know, and I see that -- only because the producer, Denise Couture pointed it out to me, a little FSC stamp on this box of Kleenex. That's something that consumers could learn to look for if they want to make sure they're buying something that was properly obtained.
KAHNExactly. You know, I like to think of us as a, you know, a simple action with a profound impact and we're sort of like a brand that's hiding in plain sight. When you start to look for the FSC logo, whether on the box of Kleenex or Band-Aids or Ben and Jerry's ice cream or, you know, you go to the Pottery Barn for furniture -- and I don't mean to be name-dropping all these companies, but the point is that our products, products certified to FSC standards, are in the same stores that people are already shopping at.
KAHNAnd if they start to look for that logo, the small FSC with the check mark and the tree, then they know they can have an impact that promotes responsible forest management and also helps to put pressure on companies to, you know, screen out the illegal sources and look for better sources for their forest products.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break and when we come back, we're going to go to the phones. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Some of our lines are open. Please feel free to give us a call with your comments or your questions. We'll read your emails, email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio this hour, Sascha von Bismarck, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency. He's been investigating illegal logging for 15 years. Cindy Squires, she's executive director of the International Wood Products Association. Also, Linda Walker, director of Responsible Forestry and Trade for the World Wildlife Fund. And joining us from Seattle, Brad Kahn, communications director of the Forest Stewardship Council U.S.
PAGEHere's an email from Richard. He writes us from Maine. He says, in the state of Maine, the logging paper industry is closing paper mills because of low demand for wood and paper products. What is driving the practice of illegal logging offshore? Who could answer that? Yes, go ahead, Sascha. Yeah.
BISMARCKYeah. Well, and it's not -- the problem is not that illegal logging is being driven offshore. The problem is that the wood from illegal logging is coming to shore. And that is what, you know, has a direct impact on any industry around the world that is trying to use legal wood, including in Maine. And the industry did a study to look at the impact and found that a billion dollars was lost to U.S. industry because cheap -- illegal wood is cheaper. You don't pay taxes. You bypass a lot of things as coming into the United States.
PAGECindy Squires, what do you think?
SQUIRESWell, I mean, we live in a global marketplace and a global supply chains, and you see that there have been a lot of shifting of where wood and paper products are being sourced. Some of those are being manufactured. In fact, we have -- U.S. wood products are actually being exported abroad, they're being turned into products and they're coming back to the United States. So we really are now in a global marketplace for both U.S.-sourced wood as well as foreign-sourced wood.
WALKERWell, the U.S. is one of the world's largest paper producers. But it's absolutely true that for certain paper grades and -- demand for paper is decreasing, as things like digital media gets more popular. One of the places in the world that WWF is most concerned about is Indonesia, where illegal logging and conversion of tropical forests, both for palm oil plantations and for pulp plantations to make some of that cheap paper that can reach our shores, has been going on for about 20 years. The situation is getting a little bit better now, partly because there's been more market pressure from global companies, more attention on those regions about their forest loss and how it contributes to climate change.
WALKERBut that's been a big issue, as Sascha was saying, with the cheap pulp imports that reach our shores.
PAGEHey, Brad, do you see a big economic effect in this country, for U.S. industries?
KAHNYeah. You know, I just -- as Americans, sometimes, we are told, in advertising, you know, look for the best price. And I just want to encourage folks that, you know, it does cost more to manage a forest responsibly. If you're going to leave habitat for an endangered species, those are trees that you might otherwise cut and sell in the market, whether you're doing it legally or illegally. So, you know, sometimes I think if the price is too good to be true, maybe it's worth a little closer look and, you know, it's worth asking questions. So, you know, I think there are a lot of drivers behind this.
KAHNBut at least for the listeners of this show, it's important to ask, where does this product come from? How was that forest managed? And I'm not suggesting you can do that all the time. But the more you ask the question, the more the retailers and other folks in the industry will start to think, oh, this is something we better pay attention to.
PAGELet's talk to Michael. He's calling us from Glen Rock, Pa. Hi, Michael.
MICHAELHello. Yes, I -- my question is, you know, on the same lines with regard to consumption of products imported from tropical countries. Besides lumber, what can be done to reduce that consumption that's encouraging the clear-cutting of the rainforest -- for things like agriculture, including things like beef, soy, coffee, bananas, that kind of thing. I think, if consumers were more aware of the impact of those products to rainforest clear-cutting and land use changes, that they might be inclined to look for those labels for things like the certification from Rainforest Alliance, that kind of thing.
PAGEBut, Michael, let me ask you, do you think Americans would be willing to pay a slightly higher price because...
MICHAELI think some might. I mean, I am. There are some that may. But I think the majority of Americans, unless they understand the impact and the long-term consequences of this, including climate change, I don't know if the tide's going to change.
PAGEAll right, Michael. Thanks for your call. Sascha.
BISMARCKYeah. Just the point that -- I think it's important to point out that this is -- the signal of this prosecution by DOJ is really a potential sea change for all the problems we're talking about. As Brad mentioned, that legality should be sort of the baseline, because otherwise you're building, you know, a nice structure on top of quicksand, if the rules are not really being followed. This new law that the Environmental Investigation Agency was really honored to lead a coalition of industry, of every single environmental group working on forests, to realized that the first step is, if you stole the wood, you shouldn't be allowed to simply get away with it and, without any risk, trade it all around the world.
BISMARCKAnd this is the new signal. It has not been taken up by the market yet. And to the question, you know, this is the first signal now with this prosecution. There is a new law like it that copied the American initiative in Europe that is just being implemented. In Australia. Our people are in Japan right now looking at a new draft. That can be a sea change. And on the subject of labeling, this whole case with Lumber Liquidators was actually about labeling. Because they were lying about where the wood was coming from for a reason, because it was coming from one of the riskiest, most dangerous places in the world, with the last 500 tigers in it.
BISMARCKAnd what, now, the chance we have going forward with this law is, those labels are actually not required to be made public. So even though Lumber Liquidators lied in this case, the only one who knew that was the government. So, an interesting ask would be to make that public.
SQUIRESWhat Sascha is talking about is the declaration requirement. They're -- the Lacey Act has essentially two components. One is a prohibition in trading in illegal wood products and plant products as well. The other is a declaration requirement. And it's quite significant because, you know, you're essentially having to not just declare the country of origin, which is where the product might have been manufactured, but rather the country of harvest and the species and genus and species of those products, which requires you to do an inquiry of your supply chain.
SQUIRESYou know, I think one thing we -- it's important to put out is, yes, the Europeans have done a very similar law. It's got some differences. The European law has very clear parameters. The other thing the European law does, which I think is very unique, is it actually engages in what they call a voluntary partnership agreement with a number of the source countries to really do the hard work of reforming not only the laws of these source countries but also to deal with the enforcement where it really needs to be done, which is on the ground where the forests are being cut. And that has been -- it's -- some have felt it hasn't worked fast enough. But a tremendous amount of work has been done.
SQUIRESAnd, in fact, talking about Indonesia, one of the big things that they're doing is they're unveiling their SVLK program, which is essentially a certification in Indonesia that's been borne out of that voluntary partnership agreement. And we're excited to see that come out. And a lot of work has gone into it.
PAGEYou know, we know industries of all sorts complain about too much government regulation making American industries not in -- competitive. What is the attitude of your -- the members of the International Wood Products Association about the move toward the Lacey Act and the other laws that are being passed internationally?
SQUIRESWell, I would say that when the Lacey Act first came out, IWPA members, we were obviously in support of the goals of the Lacey Act. No one wants illegal logging. And I think all the members who trade in wood products are very sensitive to this. They're close to the wood -- to the forests. And as this issue has evolved, looking at Australia, which has also implemented its own law, as you say, we have Japan. Indonesia now has an import requirement as well. What we're seeing and what we've been doing is actually partnering with my counterparts throughout the globe.
SQUIRESAnd I actually kind of do the little road show where we -- I have my counterpart in Australia and my counterpart in the European Union -- and we go around and we talk to some of the producing nations and some of the manufacturing nations to educate them about it as well. Because essentially the requirements under these laws are all the same. They need to comply with their own nation's laws and we need to make sure that they can do that. It's difficult because it's a complex supply chain. And depending on the product you're talking about, it may be easier than others. But, you know, we're working on it and we're getting out there and doing the work.
SQUIRESAnd I think you're going to see more of that, partly because of the Lumber Liquidators case, but frankly it was happening before. It's still always hard when you have small businesses trying to comply with not only U.S. laws but also foreign laws. And it's complicated.
WALKERYeah. I just wanted to go back to the question that -- the important question that your caller was raising about deforestation for other commodities. Illegal logging is certainly -- has huge impacts on forests around the world and can degrade forests. But this issue of deforestation, which is sort of whole-scale conversion of one forest type, particularly to agricultural products, like the caller was mentioning, around palm oil, soy, beef production. That absolutely is having a devastating impacts on forests and climate and the values that the forests provide. But we believe, as Cindy and Sascha were saying, that U.S. companies can and must be part of that solution.
WALKERAnd this is actually self interest on the part of some of the companies because they are looking for ways to make sure that they have a sustainable supply chain, that they can get supply of those materials into the future. And so we at WWF are working with companies on a variety of commodities -- timber, soy, agriculture -- to promote these standards and help the companies understand their supply chains, avoid riskier sources, engage with their own suppliers and really drive change on the ground in a way that can help their own supply chain and ultimately communicate a message to consumers about where these products come from and why responsibly sourced versions of those products can be better for consumers to buy.
PAGEBrad Kahn, your organization relies on voluntary participation by companies by companies, is that right, to get the kind of seal of approval that you offer?
KAHNThat is correct, yes.
PAGEDo you think that more laws are needed? Or do you think, with the current law and voluntary compliance, that it works well enough?
KAHNWell, the basis for our whole system is that the market, you know, and consumers can help drive responsible practices. So -- and we are a non-regulatory approach and operate in addition to other regulations. You know, we are seeing demand and awareness really growing. So on the awareness side, you know, if we look at the millennial generation in particular, there's a lot of growing awareness that, you know, you've got to ask questions before you buy something. And that, as a consumer, you have a lot of power to decide how things happen back, whether it's in the forests or on the farms, when you look at the growth in organic foods and, you know, we see that as an indicator.
KAHNYou know, we also believe that, you know, I just want to put this problem in perspective. I mean Interpol estimates that as much as $100 billion a year globally in trade is happening with illegal forest products. Now, maybe it's $30 billion, maybe...
PAGENow say that again, $100 billion?
KAHN$100 billion, as large as.
PAGE$100 billion a year? That's a huge amount of money.
KAHNIt's a market that's hard to measure, obviously. Because people aren't reporting their illegal trades. And maybe it's a lot less than that. Or frankly maybe it's a lot more. My point is, there's no silver bullet here. We think FSC is an important part of the solution. But we also think that consumers, asking where products come from -- and that includes beef, that includes soy, that includes palm oil, how is that land managed? What caused -- what did that cause for that land, for the people and the wildlife who live and depend on that land?
KAHNSo, you know, there is -- we are a consumer-based economy. And I don't want to go back to the consumers as the only party responsible, but we do, as consumers, have some responsibility to ask how things are affecting the planet when we make purchasing decisions, when we go to the store to buy something. And that's really where FSC steps in to try to make it easy for people to make the right decision.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We actually have a consumer on the line who wants to talk about his latest purchase. Ben is calling us from Frankenmuth, Mich. Ben, hi. Thanks for joining us.
BENHello. How are you?
BENWell, we're actually in the market, we're looking at flooring. And we've had some samples mailed to us. Ironically, we visited a Lumber Liquidator store about two weeks ago. And we're kind of leaning toward -- obviously there's a little bit of hesitation, given everything that's going on with them -- but the salesman there said that one of the more popular products is actually the bamboo product. And we're kind of leaning that direction. There are some characteristics that we really like. And, of course, the price point is a little bit more in line with what we're looking for.
BENSo my question is, is there any -- is the bamboo, you know, one of the things that they talk about is that it only takes three to five years for them to regenerate this product. Is it any more environmentally friendly? Or does it just not really necessarily matter, even though it can be regenerated faster? Is that a better product or not?
PAGEBen, let me just ask you just -- before we answer your question, let me just ask you, would you pay a little more for flooring that you knew came from sustainable harvesting of forest?
BENWell, I mean, the honest answer, it depends at this point. I mean, it's -- obviously having this type of discussion and learning about this information gives me pause. But, you know, I guess, for me, there's kind of a difference between going to the farmers market and spending a couple bucks more for soap that you know is being sources locally or some other product versus spending, you know, $2,000 or $3,000 or $5,000 more for a floor. So...
PAGEYou know, Ben, that's a great point. We appreciate you being very straightforward about that. So let's go back to your original question. Bamboo flooring, is it a good option, Linda. Should Ben think about that?
WALKERIt's a great question. And the answer is, yes, it can be a great option, if you can make sure that it was sourced responsibly. I'm really glad you brought up the term rapidly renewable. It's a term that's often used and equated with sustainable when products are marketed. And just because something grows really fast doesn't mean it's automatically sustainable. I think about the kudzu vine in the southeast U.S. or your ailanthus trees that might be invading your yard, or even your bamboo that might be invading your backyard. So just because something grows fast doesn't mean that it's automatically sustainable.
WALKERMost of the bamboo flooring and products that are produced are coming from China, although there are other parts of the world where bamboo is grown in plantations. Some of those are grown pretty well and some of those are grown in areas that might be suffering from heavy chemical use or erosion. So I would say bamboo flooring, as well, is available as FSC certified. And I would ask the dealer if they can provide you with FSC certified flooring, which would maybe give you exactly the product you want with the assurance you want.
PAGEBut, you know, Ben made a very -- made -- gave a very honest answer, which was, he wants to do the right thing, but it depends a little bit on how big the differential in price is going to be.
SQUIRESWell, and this is an issue the industry has been concerned about with FSC. And I do want to emphasize, FSC isn't the only certification program out there. PEFC is another certification umbrella. And there are a lot of national programs that are certified under the PEFC label, including SFI, which is the United States' program under PEFC. But, you know, it is a big issue. And a lot of my members will be FSC Chain-of-Custody certified -- they will offer it -- and are often frustrated because they'll be asked quotes for both the FSC and the non-FSC and, you know, they usually choose the non-FSC. And sometimes, if...
PAGEIf it's cheaper.
SQUIRES...if it's cheaper. And sometimes it's the same wood. And that sounds a little odd, but FSC, the way it works is there's a fee that attaches every step along the way in the supply chain. And if you utilize the FSC claims, then you have to pay essentially a royalty to do that.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we're going to go back to the phones and take your calls and questions, we're going to read your emails. Our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850. Or firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking this hour about illegal logging. The impact it has on our environment, on the habitats for endangered species. Joining us from Seattle is Brad Kahn, who's from the Forest Stewardship Council. And here in the studio with me is Linda Walker from the World Wildlife Fund, Cinda -- Cindy Squires from the International Wood Products Association and Sasha von Bismarck from the Environmental Investigation Agency.
PAGEWe've been taking your calls and questions. You can give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. You know, we have a couple emails from consumers who are looking for some help. Here's one from Jan. "Planting trees for the future is the trademark on the Scotty's tissue box. Is that a helpful guide to buying?" Is that -- does that indicate anything that would be good for consumers to know?
BISMARCKWell, I think in this case, and generally, consumers need help. And, you know, any, I think, specific advertising slogan on any product is not the thing to look for. I think the challenge is that even the certification scheme -- Cindy brought up some others out there -- it is challenging because, you know, how do you know what is actually happening on the ground? And that is why we need some laws, some -- create a level playing field so that consumers have help, that when they see some of these statements that they are actually being followed on the ground. So there's not a pat answer for that one.
WALKERYeah, I'll just add that I think there's a lot of different ways to be part of the solution. So if you read on an advertising piece or a package that a company supports tree planting, that can be a good thing. But that's also a separate thing from how they're actually sourcing their wood. So if they're sourcing illegal wood and planting some trees, that kind of negates the two things.
WALKERSo it is very important to think about restoration and reforestation when we think about the fact that there's gonna be more than nine billion people on the planet by the year 2050, and we're gonna need enough forest and forest products to supply all those people. So reforestation and tree planting is an important thing. It can actually help communities and a lot of places around the US get involved, get kids excited about forestry, but it's a separate issue from the actual sourcing of that product.
PAGEYou can see the frustration of consumers who want to do the right thing. Here's an email from SR, who writes, "How do I know as a consumer that a product is not from a destroyed rainforest? Saying ask questions is not helpful and practical, since most times the retailer has no clue whether the produce came from a rainforest."
PAGEAnd here's another email from Norman, who writes, "If consumer demand shapes policy, how does TPP impact this?" That would be the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the big trade deal now being considered by Congress. This person notes, "There has been a move to remove country of origin labels."
BISMARCKWell, I think that first question comes from my point earlier. I think there's a real opportunity now. Consumers need help with information. You know, they can't just accept the kind of pat answer. And we have a chance now to give them information with this new declaration requirement under the Lacey Act, ask the government to make that public so that every product you see actually tells you what wood is in there and what country it's coming from. That is a total mystery at the moment.
PAGESo under the Lacey Act, the company has to tell the government where it comes from, but doesn't have to tell the consumer where it comes from.
BISMARCKThat's right. And some of it, I'm sure, is proprietary, but the basic fact of what is the species of wood and what country is it coming from to empower the consumer to make some sensible decisions surely has to be helpful and not hurtful.
SQUIRESWell, to a certain degree. I mean, I understand where Sasha's coming from from that. But I don't know how helpful that'll really be. Because we're looking at products that are coming in to the United States that are then remanufactured in the United States and turned into other products. And so it's not a matter of just a box of flooring that's already been pre-done. There's lots of different kind of products and they're going into your house, as well.
SQUIRESAnd so from our perspective, I don't know if that's really particularly helpful, but one thing that I think is worth pointing out from the TPP, which is that there is essentially support for Lacey-type laws in the TPP, that these countries that are gonna be part of the TPP are, for the first time, going to be asked to have essentially similar prohibitions on illegal logging. Which is tremendous and, in fact, is a real move going forward.
PAGELinda, what are the attitudes in the developing world that count on the revenue that they're getting from lumber harvesting? What is their attitude toward some of these limits and restrictions and reporting requirements?
WALKERWell, for some of the countries that we work most actively in, where illegal logging is a big issue, like countries in the Congo Basin, Indonesia and some of the Amazon countries. The countries themselves are recognizing that they are losing millions of dollars in things like uncaptured tax revenues. When lumber is stolen out of the forest and smuggled out of the country and sent overseas, those governments are losing the key revenues that they would normally be entitled to for those wood products. And the communities that depend on those forests for their livelihood are also having those forests degraded over time.
PAGENow, here's an email from Michael, who asks, "Who are the people on the ground doing this illegal logging? What alternatives do these workers have? Are they guaranteed a minimum wage at other jobs?" How would you answer Michael?
WALKERWell, unfortunately, sometimes the community members themselves are enlisted by these illegal logging rings, which are usually run by larger operations farther away. So there might be community members sometimes actually cutting the trees down, but they're not benefitting very much from that logging, even though they might get a small amount of money. And over time the forests that their community depends on get degraded.
WALKERThere's also plenty of examples where community members themselves, in Peru and Cambodia and other places, have actually been killed trying to stop illegal loggers from coming into their communities. So WWF and other organizations are working very actively with local communities around the world who can be partners in patrolling some of these forest areas, and also in developing other projects, like agroforestry projects that can actually help these communities have long-term supply of an income without having to go into the forest.
PAGEYou know, you mentioned the situation in Cambodia. Sasha, really extraordinary development last week when Cambodia's prime minister authorized firing rockets at smuggles of illegal timber. Surprise to you?
BISMARCKWell, there are a lot of actions that maybe are not the way to go in this point. But, you know, the -- a driver of -- we're talking about communities. The way to help to communities develop responsibly is not to illegally log the forest that they depend on. You know, forestry can be an extraordinary function for sustainable development. And that depends on creating some sensible rules, whatever anybody decides on, and sticking to them.
BISMARCKWhen we did our investigation that related to Gibson and Madagascar, the argument was you have to allow the local people to make money. Those guys were making one dollar a day for a trunk that in China was being manufactured into something that was worth a million dollars a few months later. And it was being stolen out of the national park. So, you know, Cindy, you mentioned that it was an odd law.
BISMARCKThe point of this law is, I mean, I think most people would think it was odd that heretofore it has been legal to trade stolen wood. That's wood being stolen from these communities we're talking about. The chance going forward is that communities can decide what to do with their forests and have an international marketplace that respects what they decide. I think that's the key.
WALKERWell, and, you know, and I think that respect is really important. Particularly, I think the work that has been done under the Voluntary Partnership Agreement and that has also been done under the Free Trade Agreement with Peru, where you really have all the parties get together and sit down and come up with a definition of legality for a country, do reform of that sector, make sure that there are resources and there's capacity building internally, within that country, and that you also have some oversight of that. And it's a critical process. I mean, these are long-standing, complicated issues in many of these source countries. They're not gonna be resolved overnight.
BISMARCKBut it's a real crime. I think that it would be a mistake to say we can have Voluntary Partnerships Agreements or we can have Voluntary Certification to deal with extreme organized crime that is assassinating people every year here at…
SQUIRESWell, but I mean, I would say that that's exactly what is happening with these Voluntary Partnership Agreements. I mean, these are trade agreements between the EU and the countries that decided to participate in them. They are very difficult, long negotiations, but they do result, I think, in some tremendous reforms. And you have to admit, you know, the changes that have happened in Indonesia as a result of this participation, of this effort. Ghana, the same thing.
SQUIRESI mean these are real success stories and we need to celebrate them and we need to support them.
PAGESasha, are you skeptical, though, that voluntary agreements can do enough?
BISMARCKYeah, I mean, the particular initiative Cindy's talking about is a good initiative. It hasn't born fruit in many cases. The question is are we diverting attention from the tough stuff, the tough decisions. Are we actually gonna stop a shipment of stolen wood in this world? And right now…
SQUIRESWell, I mean…
BISMARCK…we have it in Peru, a current example of football fields of illegal wood. Three of them being held in Houston, two city blocks, six stories high being held in Mexico, which was on its way to the States, as I understand. That is an extraordinary situation, which is now kind of the next big case under this new law in the United States. The question is are we really gonna take action there or are we gonna talk about voluntary measures?
PAGESo that Peru case is an interesting one. The Houston Chronicle reported in December that there were 71 shipping containers filled with Amazon rainforest timber, being held at the Port of Houston since September. Big international controversy. What's gonna happen to all that hardwood? And what's the next step?
BISMARCKWell, we don't know. But it's -- that scheme, that ship has been making that route for about 10 years. And it's delivered tens of millions of trees that were stolen from the Amazon rainforest, based on what the Peruvian officials have now found to be illegal in these two shipments that were on their way there. I mean, it's just, you know, this is the clearest example, where you have 90 percent being -- 80 to 90 percent being illegally cut in Peru. And so much of it going straight to the United States.
BISMARCKYou have the most charismatic leader there fighting against that problem being gunned down in broad daylight with three of his compatriots. You know, for the first time, have the wood actually being stopped and having the powers behind it for the first time actually nervous that they can't traffic in this stuff. As a result, the top official in Peru, a few weeks ago, was fired. And is now under public death threats. So the question is will we, as consumers, respond, stand up and see this new reality, that we'll actually stand by those efforts and not allow this traffic anymore. It's an extraordinary opportunity, but it hangs in the balance.
PAGELinda, this was Amazon rainforest timber. Talk about the impact in the Amazon for illegal logging.
WALKERWell, as Sasha said, there's incredible community impacts, but also impacts on just a vast array of endangered wildlife and bird species that our organization and others are working to protect. So for example, population of jaguar, the range of the jaguar has shrunk by 50 percent in recent years because of illegal logging, deforestation throughout the Amazon region and up into Central America. There is also impacts, obviously, of other extraction, mineral extraction and the roads that go into these areas.
WALKERAnd one of the things we're particularly concerned about in the Amazon and Indonesia and other places is these roads get punched in to take illegal logs out and that then becomes basically an avenue for illegal hunters and poachers that come in to either kill the jaguars for their skins, to take baby orangutans for the illegal pet trade in Indonesia. So that's a -- that's sort of the domino effect that happens that affects wildlife from the illegal pet trade, illegal wildlife trade.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have a listener, John, from San Francisco, who wants to know if the FSC is a for-profit or a non-profit organization. Brad, what would the answer be?
KAHNWe are a non-profit organization. The Forest Stewardship Council, we set the standards so our members who are environmental groups, businesses and indigenous tribes and associations, labor unions, all come together and set definitions of what is responsible management, what does that look like for water, air, chemical use, old growth, endangered species, all of those key factors. And then once those standards are set, companies are audited to our standard. So they would hire an independent auditory who would go out into the forest, use the FSC standards to determine whether those standards are being met.
KAHNAnd the most common scenario is that the auditors almost always find some ways that the forest manager needs to improve management in order to earn FSC certification. Organizations, you know, around the world are then, you know, out in the forest. But our system is built on a non-profit network and we're led by our members who are environmental, social and economic interests.
PAGELet's take a call from Gaye. She's calling us from Cadiz, Ky. Hi, Gaye.
GAYEHi. Yes, I wanted -- I don't know if I missed it. Did anybody on there mention IKEA? Because I believe that they have been linked to illegal logging in Georgia, Russia. There was a BBC article on -- about that last year. Secondly, I live in Trigg County. And there -- and I'm on the border of Tennessee, Kentucky. And I've counted seven logging companies in my area. Their yards are full of hundreds of logged wood that is from the surrounding area.
GAYEThis highway that is a small, rural highway, has about half a dozen trucks that go back and forth each day in one direction, picking up more logs and going back for a reload. This area is being clear-cut in some areas where they even dug up the stumps and burned them in big, huge piles, causing a lot of pollution. And then they replant the area with soybeans. It's just heartbreaking to me, of all the wildlife is becoming road kill.
GAYEThe deer, the raccoons, the possums, the skunks, birds, they're running out of room where to go, except for Ft. Donaldson, I mean, Ft. Campbell, which is next to me, which still has lots of forest around it. But it's being bombed or strafed daily with the practice of the military over there. So it's not really a fully safe place for them to go to.
PAGEWow, Gaye, that sounds like quite the amount of activity in your neighborhood. Linda, what do you think? This isn't necessarily illegal logging, right? This could be legal logging.
PAGEBut very detrimental to the wildlife that she sees.
WALKERYeah, I mean, your caller speaks to a very important issue, is -- which is that here in our own backyard, in the U.S., even though we have a much better system of forest laws and law enforcement, there are still instances of illegal logging in the U.S. There was just one case a few months ago in Washington State, with Big Leaf maple being removed from a national forest. But also, issues of forest conversion. And the pressures that exist around the world for conversion to agriculture also exist here.
WALKERSo there's also quite a bit of pressure in the southeast U.S. for the biomass industry and harvesting of logs that are then shipped over to Europe and also to fuel biomass here. I also wanted to just mention -- I think she was asking a question about IKEA. I believe there was a criticism a few years ago about one of the suppliers to IKEA in Georgia or some other part of Russia. And I believe that there was some accusations made about the forestry practices in that area.
WALKERI don't have the full answer to that, but I do know that this was one of IKEA's suppliers. I believe there were some misunderstandings about how the acquisitions that were being made. I do know that IKEA is globally one of the companies that has the strongest policies and a team of foresters on the ground around the world that are monitoring for good forest management practices. So it's -- there's always challenges out there for companies, but they're one of the ones that are showing more due diligence than others.
PAGEWe've gotten an email from Alice who says, "Please mention the incredibly comprehensive Global Forest Watch website, where users can access an interactive map, information and blog focusing on all aspects of deforestation and reforestation. It has a whole section on supply chains." Well, I'm afraid we're out of time. I want to thank our panel for being with us this hour. Brad Kahn, Linda Walker, Cindy Squires, and Sasha van -- von Bismarck. Thank you all for being with us.
BISMARCKThank you very much.
SQUIRESThank you very much.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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