I recently read about a North Carolina man arrested in an illegal logging case. I was struck by how difficult it is to address these cases when the actions occur deep in the forests, far off the beaten path. Consider the time frame of events:
Apparently the actual logging took place in 2013 on land owned by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. A private land owner held a tract next to the Conservancy’s property and they hired the logger to work that area. The logging team crossed the property line and took a number top grade oaks and hickories off ten acres of the Conservancy’s protected land.
The problem wasn’t discovered until 2015 and after investigation, criminal charges were dropped in 2016 because no one could prove intent or define responsibility for actions several years prior.
The Conservancy filed a civil suit and won a judgement of nearly 200,000 dollars to cover the value of the trees and the cost of replanting and repair of the land. However the logger failed to pay or attend hearings to discuss the judgement and was finally arrested.
So those are the bare bone facts—illegal logging definitely occurred in 2013 and they know who did it. It’s not clear if it was an innocent mistake, a straying across the property line, or if the logging team took deliberate advantage of the area’s isolation, but it happened. And that wood is certainly in the commercial supply chain.
What I’m struggling with is how do you defend your supply chain in this type of situation? By the time the theft was even discovered, the material was likely in someone’s home.
This is one of the great challenges in the US. Our forests are mostly privately owned. We don’t have a system of harvest permits and logging plans the way many countries do. Sawmills rely a great deal on “gatewood,” with loggers showing up and knocking on their doors with a truckload of trees. That means it often gets down to the most local level—expecting the mills to know who they are buying from and be responsible in their choices of partners.
I am sure that in late 2015, the local industry in the area was a buzz with the news of the illegal logging charges. The Conservancy was making sure it was news. There was local press. We all know how small the timber world can be, so surely there was gossip. And what did the local mills do? Did they increase checks on their gatewood generally? Did any refuse to do business with this particular logger? Did they do any extra work to verify sources—maybe visit a site if they knew it was next to an unprotected tract of particularly fine timber? Or did it continue to be business as usual?
The old saying is that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Gatewood is quite likely the weakest link in the US supply chain. So how do we make it stronger?
Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.