Ipe wood Is Being Clear cut In The Amazon Rain Forest – 2015
It is night time in the Brazilian state of Para, but not everything is silent. Logging trucks, taking advantage of the cover of darkness are ferrying, illegally extracted ipe wood and other species from the Amazon rainforest to sawmills in Santarem, Placas and Uruará, where the ipe wood will be processed and exported.
The Brazilian government is not oblivious to the devastation caused by illegal logging ipe wood in the Amazon forest. It has introduced several measures to stem the loss of forest land such as new laws and legislation and on-the ground measures like electronic control systems to track and record timber sales. But loggers have found ways to circumvent these checks, as Greenpeace saw when it conducted an investigation into illegal logging in the state of Para.
The Greenpeace investigation took place in the municipalities of Santarem, Placas and Uruará, all of which are in Para state. Santarem itself is the heart of Para industry’s timber industry.
The investigation was a watershed event because it uncovered the extent of Para’s illegal logging industry. Hidden GPS locators were fitted on logging trucks surreptitiously and they were tracked as they moved illegally logged timber from the forests to sawmills, for processing. If the criminals and cartels running the operation knew about the operation they would have stopped at nothing to prevent the exposure. So the team that conducted the investigation deserves the highest praise for working under pressure and persisting with the operation, fully knowing that if discovered, they could have even lost their lives. In the end, the operation found some astonishing facts.
How the timber is cut from the forest and taken to the sawmills
The operation revealed the loggers’ modus operandi and we have to say it is a devious piece of planning indeed. During the day, the logging trucks would enter the rainforest and would be loaded with ipe logs. They would wait there till darkness fell and then they would come out of the forest and drive to the saw mills, located in Santarem.
The sawmills are also in on the fraud because the responsibility of procuring the official paperwork needed to export the ipe wood is on them. Once the paperwork is obtained, the rest is easy. The processed ipe wood is taken to the port in Santarem and laundered abroad in countries such as the U S, Canada, China, Japan and others. Ironically, many of these countries have laws that prohibit the import of illegally obtained timber.
The extent of destructive logging in the Amazon forest
Logging has destroyed about 700,000 sq km of the Amazon forest in Brazil. That is an area the size of Myanmar. The world has not fully woken up to the extent of the damage because the Amazon is still the biggest rainforest in the world. The sad part is, though the government and civil society organizations are working to reduce this damage, recent studies have shown that the deforestation has begun to get worse. Clearly, there is something missing.
It is not only that the loggers have excavated roads into the forest. The logging has also caused many other side effects. For one, logging makes the forest vulnerable to fragmentation and degradation. When there is a road, can people be far behind? They have cleared the area adjacent to the roads for farming and rearing cattle, leading to more deforestation. The area where the illegal logging is occurring is also known for widespread corruption and poor law enforcement. This has only exacerbated the problem and made it endemic. Did you know that three quarters or three out of every four pieces of ipe wood that comes out of Para state, is illegal?
At one time, the problem become so serious that the Brazilian government stepped in. That was in 2006. A number of changes were made in the law and many measures were taken on the ground. Logging estates can no longer cut ipe wood without giving something back to the environment. They now have to submit a forest management plan and they can cut wood only after the plan is approved by the government. But the law is followed more in its breach than its observance.
After the forest management plan is approved, the estates receive a certain number of credits for the timber they have applied to harvest. Any timber that is logged from the estate and shipped/sold should have these credits. It also means that any ipe wood logged outside the estate (or when quantity is more than the number of credits given to the estate) is not legal. In essence, it should be impossible to sell such timber but the ground realities are entirely different.
Greenpeace’s investigation found that the loggers had managed to find weaknesses in the system and were exploiting these to issue themselves new credits. These credits are used to launder the ipe wood overseas. One of the ways they do this is by submitting proposals to log timber from areas that they have no intention of logging ipe wood from. They later use the credits to log the ipe wood from another place. Like this, they are able to make the ipe wood legitimate. Law enforcement agencies are also in fix because there is just no way to say if the ipe wood was logged legally or illegally.
The role of Rainbow Trading
One company is especially complicit in all this illegality- Rainbow Trading. The company has a network of saw mills in Para state, where illegal ipe wood is processed before export. The company claims that it procures its ipe wood from five estates, but Greenpeace’s investigation revealed that three of the estates were not processing any wood and two of them were logging ipe wood illegally. Greenpeace also found that the trucks that brought ipe wood into the sawmills owned by Rainbow Trading got the ipe wood from illegal timber camps.
It is very clear that Rainbow Trading is receiving/laundering illegally logged ipe wood. Moreover, many of the sawmills that supply ipe wood to Rainbow Trading do not have a license, even though a license is compulsory to process wood as per law. Look at the brazenness of the companies- one of the sawmills has been slapped with an injunction notice by the Brazilian government. The sawmill should stop processing wood but it has not done so.
Some of the countries that Rainbow Trading exports the ipe wood to, have strict laws against importing illegally logged wood. The irony is, this mechanism is toothless. The corruption in Para state has not only made it possible to log wood indiscriminately but it has also facilitated the export of this ipe wood, creating a vicious cycle of environmental destruction and corruption. The major reason why this practice is flourishing is because of an inherent weakness in the control system. Many would say that it even sustains the illegal logging. It is also a clear indictment of the fact that is easy to acquire fraudulent paperwork for logging in Para state.
How was the racket uncovered?
Greenpeace investigators were able to trace the route taken by the trucks ferrying ipe wood to the sawmills, connected to Rainbow Trading with the help of the hidden GPS locators. It was found that the timber was taken from public forests, where the loggers did not have any authorization to cut trees. Yet, when Greenpeace conducted reconnaissance flights over the area, they saw a number of logging camps, clearings inside the forest, where the logged ipe wood was being stored and access roads to these camps.
The electronic control system that records the sale of timber in Mato Grosso and Para is called SISFLORA, short for System for Commercialization and Transportation of Forest Produce. Greenpeace obtained official documents from this system. When these documents were analyzed, it was found that Rainbow Trading was falsifying claims. For example, in these documents Rainbow Trading had claimed that it sourced 90 percent of its timber from five estates. When Greenpeace investigators saw satellite imagery of the estates that Rainbow Trading claimed supplied it timber, they saw that three of these estates were not logging wood. This means Rainbow Trading was using the credits obtained by these estates to launder ipe wood procured from some other place.
The government knows that Rainbow Trading is acting illegally. The company and its suppliers have received stiff fines from IBAMA- the government’s environmental police in the past. Greenpeace has procured records which show that Rainbow Trading bought timber from Saguby, Schmitt & Schnorr Ltda and Odani. These sawmills are barred from trading in timber.
The IBAMA has suspended the environmental registration number of these companies. Without a environmental registration number you cannot process timber in Brazil. At this point, you should know what an environmental registration number is.
In Brazil, all companies which trade, process or export timber should have an active CTF or Cadastro Tecnico Federal. The CTF is also known as the environmental registration number and it is a key component of Brazil’s forestry laws. The idea behind having a CTF is to ensure that the timber in the supply chain is felled, processed and traded according to the law. It means timber from sawmills who do not have a CTF is illegal and it cannot be exported.
These issues raise many questions. For instance, why are the government authorities in Brazil and abroad, responsible for enforcing forestry laws sitting tight and not acting against these companies? These sawmills are not only operating illegally, they are also handling illegally obtained timber (cut from forests where no logging is allowed). Their crime is enhanced if you consider that they are obtain official paperwork, illegally to legitimize their operations. In the light of these facts, no reasonable government can say that the ipe wood obtained by Rainbow Trading and other companies like it, complies with international law. Despite this, processed ipe wood from these companies is regularly sent to the U S, Canada and Europe.
Companies in other countries importing Brazilian wood should be careful, lest they fall foul of the law. There are a number of structural flaws in Brazil’s timber industry which has caused a situation where companies stand to gain a high premium from illegal logging. It is also a fact that most of the forest management plans in Brazil are not yet verified. It means official documentation on the origin of the ipe wood is not sufficient to assure the origin or legal status of the imported wood. If your company is not serious about tackling these challenges, then you should avoid buying ipe wood logged in high risk areas such as Brazil altogether.
But any action cannot be unilateral. All stakeholders who are interested in the conservation of the Amazon forest have to come together to prevent this catastrophe There are a number of ways the Brazilian government, companies who import Brazilian wood and government agencies in these countries can help with this problem. We have listed some promising ideas.
For the Brazilian government
The Brazilian government should quickly act on Greenpeace’s report and take steps to ensure that illegally logged ipe wood does not enter the market. All forest management plans approved after 2006 should be reviewed. All sawmills should also get their licenses reviewed compulsorily and a new regulatory system should be created for their operation. The capacity of federal and state environmental agencies should be increased by building additional infrastructure and increasing funds for surveillance, enforcement and monitoring. Penalties should be imposed on those who are convicted for forest crimes.
For companies importing Brazilian ipe wood
Companies should stop buying ipe wood from the Amazon, unless the company exporting the wood can furnish credible proof and assurance that the ipe wood was legally cut. They can also ask for proof, separate from standard official documents, which will show that the exporter has not participated in forest degradation, biodiversity loss and other social impacts. Other options is to import plantation grown products(grown to be harvested) for use.
For government agencies in importing companies
Government agencies abroad can launch investigations against domestic companies who are buying ipe wood from the Brazilian agencies identified by Greenpeace, as contributing to illegal logging in the Amazon. They should find out if the companies have taken any steps to mitigate risks from buying illegally logged timber. If they have not, strict action should be taken against them.