Illegal Logging

This is what I wrote for my forestry magazine. It has some political points that might be of interest here. - Illegal loggers steal from us in many ways. Sometimes they are literally stealing our trees, but it goes way beyond that. Illegal logging is rarely done according to good procedures that protect the environment and preserve the forest for future generations. The public views the scenes of destruction left by illegal loggers and jumps to conclusion that this is how logging is done. That means that illegal loggers also steal the reputations of honest loggers and landowners who are good stewards of their land and often have been for many generations.

Addressing the problem of illegal logging, however, is not as simple as enacting stronger laws and harsher penalties. In fact, worldwide it is often the theoretically strong laws that are the problem. Of course, in Virginia we still have timber theft. This is a type of illegal logging but at the levels and ways it is done, it is more akin to ordinary crime like burglary or grand theft auto. There are no cases of widespread deforestation caused by illegal logging in the Old Dominion. Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere. In some countries the illegal timber harvest can reach as high a 60-70% of the total.What accounts for the difference?

The easy answer is that countries where illegal logging is rampant simply lack strict laws or the ability to enforce them. The first part of this statement is often not true. Many developing countries have - on the books - much stricter preservation laws than we have in Virginia. In some places it is just plain illegal to cut down native forests on a wide range of land types. These are often the places most likely to be deforested, as illegal logging targets them first. They understand that government authorities probalby cannot protect them and that the off limits status has removed the incentives for local people to pay much attention. The second part of the statement - that they lack the ability to enforce the good laws - is true in areas of deforestation but it is not as remarkable at it seems because it is true everywhere.

Logging is almost always done in relatively out of the way places. Laws are never enough. Even the most active authorities cannot effectively police large areas of forest land. In Virginia, they really don't have to. Landowners, loggers and foresters have incentives to preserve and enhance the forests on their land because they can use and benefit from them. They also know that everyone around suffers if forests, soils, animals and water are wantonly destroyed. It is obviously true that the authorities protect my forest land in Brunswick County. But the first lines of defense are my neighbors, friends and even strangers who know that we are all in this together. Virginians protect their own land and those of others because they own the land. We have centuries old traditions of protecting property rights and we all are in the same boat. We protect each other's stuff.

We also enjoy the use of our land with fewer restrictions than in most other places. We can harvest trees and other forest products within reasonable rules. We can hunt that animals that inhabit our forests and, again within reasonable limits, we can change the way we use our lands. In the final analysis, what most protects the forests of Virginia is the effort of thousands of Virginians who have a stake in the management and use of the forests and the products they produce. In Virginia, hunters, loggers and landowners are preserving and enhacing our forests. Laws work when they are reasonable and when people see the benefits. If you want to preserve and improve forests, you have to let people cut some trees and kill some animals. You have to let them have a stake.

Places that suffer widespread deforestation because of illegal logging often find themselves in this unhappy situation not in spite of but because of strong laws, albeit misapplied. Laws and regulations meant to preserve forests often end up destroying them if they make it difficult or impossible for the people who live in or near the forests to make an honest living from them. If strict rules make it impossible to make an honest profit, some people will make dishonest ones. Even worse, as honest people leave the business and dishonest ones take their place, the whole respect for law as well as the whole idea of stewardship disappears. The field divides between preservers and destroyers. Neither is the right way to go. We need stewards.

If I can be permitted a little immodesty, in America we got it right. That is not to say challenges have disappeared. There is no perfect system and everything must always adapt. But we should never make the quest for the perfect the enemy of the good. The methods of stewardship that have grown up in the United States during the twentieth century work well. The American Tree Farm System and other independent certification systems are doing their jobs.

Most landowners want to do the right thing on their land. People I talk to not only want to take care of the land during their own lifetimes. A major motivation is to leave the land in better shape for future generations. People are willing. We need information and guidance both to do the right things and to do things right. What we don't need is strict, sometimes incomprehensible, rules that make it difficult for honest people to make honest profits. We have created a wonderful and sustainable system of forestry in Virginia. We can be proud of it and we should all work to protect it and try to spread the word as far as we can.

Posted by Christine & John at January 15, 2012 11:08 AM
Comment #334571

C&J, good points and correct assessment, IMO. Read a Natl Geo report on the Redwood forest and how they the locals have learned to log the forest while protecting the bigger trees, leading to increased growth and max production geared to sustainability.

Done thru useful, workable regulation. Quite unlike the mega-corporations going into smaller, undeveloped countries, paying off whomever to maximize profits then leave for the next best thing. Globalisation at its finest.

Be interested to learn how Brazil is doing with their rainforest and the timber industry.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at January 15, 2012 10:12 PM
Comment #334621

C&J, this is very timely for me as over Thanksgiving I had some trees poached on one of my properties. Looks like they were just cutting firewood; probably to sell on the side of the road like you see around here. Nice profit when you didn’t pay for your inventory.

My trip up to that tract has led me to re-plan its existence. It’s a century farm, having been in the family pre Civil War, with about 20ac in field, 20ac in old growth, and a 1ac slave cemetery. We’ve sectioned off the cemetery as sometimes there are visitors, and even though I want to restrict access to the property I want to continue to allow access to the graves. I had a forester from the State come out and assess the property about a month ago and we both have come to the conclusion that, even with prices being so low, it’s time to start over with the property. That means cutting an almost 100 year old stand of old growth loblolly and long leaf mix in order to make the property economically viable. One thing I’ve learned is that if a property has little or no value it won’t be maintained. By re-planting and taking the field out of production I can ensure the property’s viability for the rest of my life and for my daughter’s life. It will be sad to see those old trees go but in the long run it is much better in order to sustain the property. I’ll fix my access issues too!

Posted by: George at January 16, 2012 11:31 AM
Comment #334626

Saw a carved wood sign near Luray recently. A hand gun to either side with a Thompson machine gun hanging at the bottom and large lettering that read “we don’t call 911”.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at January 16, 2012 12:57 PM
Comment #334630


A century old loblolly probably should be cut quick as you can. You might think about leaving some of the longleaf and managing with fire.

When you cut the loblolly, count the rings. I bet they are not 100 years old.


Brazil has a great forestry industry. Unfortunately they are plagues by foreign NGOs, like Greenpeace, who don’t understand forestry but want to make trouble.

Of course, Greenpeace founder has seen the light and advocates good forestry.

Posted by: C&J at January 16, 2012 2:04 PM
Comment #334635

Jack it’s a century farm meaning the land has been in my family for at least 100 years. My great grandfather, who raised my Dad through childhood, was born on the property.

The forester’s description: “This area contains a mature pine overstory with mixed hardwoods in the midstory. Both loblolly and longleaf pine are prevalent. These pines range from approximately 15 to 30 inches in diameter and average 85 feet in height. Density varies from approximately 50 to 150 square feet. Overall these pines seem to be in good health with no major insect or disease issues present. Scattered pines have succumbed due to old age and possibly lighting strikes. The midstory contains pre-merchantable to pulpwood sized hardwoods. Species noted include primarily oak and hickory. This is a very aesthetically pleasing stand.”

The forester was saddened to recommend harvesting the entire stand, but for the health and viability of the land it should have been done years ago. I think that’s the point of what you write above.

Posted by: George at January 16, 2012 2:56 PM
Comment #334638


It will be fun. If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you? Forestry is something that takes years. We often don’t see the full results of our work, but its good to see some.

We just planted 5 acreas of Longleaf as an experiment. We browned and then burned after clear cutting the loblolly.

Genetics in pine have improved a lot. Loblolly is on the so-called third generation. You will notice the difference within five years.

This is my forestry blog -

It has pictures of the burning and other things forestry

Posted by: C&J at January 16, 2012 4:21 PM
Comment #334650

I’m 49 so assuming we harvest, prep and plant over the next year, and I stay healthy I could be there for the thinning and then harvest. My Dad is 85 and at least right now is excited about my project. Forestry as been his life;he’s reg. forester no. 4 in South Carolina.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Posted by: George at January 16, 2012 9:57 PM
Comment #334667


Everybody is younger than I am.

There is a good chance you will live long enough to see your trees harvested.

Good luck.

Posted by: C&J at January 17, 2012 6:18 PM
Comment #334688

Long time no visit.
Check out this link. Government picking winners and losers again. Welfare for the wealthy.

Billions for private enterprise. Why?

Don’t even talk to me about food stamps and Obama when this stuff goes on.

Free. Market. Prices. Right.

Posted by: LibRick at January 18, 2012 12:31 AM
Comment #334690


This is exactly why government should mostly stay away from the economy.

This is clearly NOT a timber subsidy, since it is pay most in states w/o significant timber.

From the article you linked, this is NOT a timber program. It ships money to places like Nevada and New Mexico, which have almost no private commercial forests.

Why does generally treeless Nevada get the cash? Harry Reid’s power.

This is another example of how politics gets int he way of honest work.

Posted by: C&J at January 18, 2012 4:57 AM
Comment #334691


We private owners don’t get any of this. At least i have never heard of it or got any money.

It also seems to be the response to losses caused by government rules initially. It ended up helping the politically powerful.

You have made the excellent Milton Friedman argument against government intervention. I think this may be an example of regulatory capture and just plain pork barrel politics.

Posted by: C&J at January 18, 2012 5:00 AM
Comment #334699

Well this is an interesting diversion. For my tract there is the South Carolina Forest Renewal Program, the US Farm Service Agency Conservation Reserve Program, and USDA’s Longleaf Pine Initiative, all providing money to me for my project provided I participate in their programs and adhere to their guidelines. I have a forester friend who is adamant that he and his clients not take advantage of any of the programs based on his “Tea Party” political views, but I was wondering how you feel about so called “rich landowner welfare programs?” For me the longleaf program is interesting because I have field on the property that is in current production. I could plant 16ac of longleaf under that program and receive assistance for the prep, planting, and then a rental payment for 10 years.

Posted by: George at January 18, 2012 10:58 AM
Comment #334709

I’m a Ron Paul’er all the way on European socialisation. Would like to see ADM’s one years worth of subsidy payments in one check.

It would be near impossible to find anything, ANYTHING, that is not subsidized by your tax dollars. Humans, dogs, fish, plants, trees, etc. I’m sure you could find places where even the air is subsidized re pollution, swamp gas, or something like that.

Remove all that stuff and the $15T debt will set to zero pdq.

Perry and Gingrich and perhaps Paul are recommending a flat tax. A 15% flat tax would get people off Romney’s ass and, in a few years time, would set the $15T debt back to zero. Would stop the class warfare and put all on an equal tax footing.

Hard question: Who is more likely to garner the most subsidies? Rich folks or poor folks? Come on Romney, show us that tax return. ADM, total up and show up. Audit the Fed - - -

Otherwise - - -

Posted by: Roy Ellis at January 18, 2012 1:39 PM
Comment #334710

Thats right! Paul wants NO taxes. Worked well up till around 1913.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at January 18, 2012 1:45 PM
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