By Marcelene Sutter

A forest road in Siberia
A forest road in Siberia, where trees are under siege by illegal loggers fueled by the Russian network of organized crime. Credit: Mikhail Koninin

In the dense forests that cover about half of Russia, the global leader in log exportation, trouble is brewing. Here, these trees are threatened by a dangerous manifestation of greed — organized crime. The timber of Russian trees is in such high demand that thieves have no problem selling illegally logged wood, resulting in what Russian President Vladimir Putin has called a nearly 70 percent increase in illegal logging over the past five years.

Beyond rampant corruption and organized crime, illegal logging carries with it another serious threat: The oak and walnut trees targeted by illegal loggers for their value in flooring and furniture are the same species that make up the forest habitats of the endangered Siberian tiger. The deer and wild boar that make up much of the tiger’s diet feed on walnuts from these trees. Only about 450 of these beautiful tigers are still living in the wild, and this small number is severely threatened by loss of habitat. Some of this timber is stolen from these forests without permits, but much is taken when those with proper permits cut more than they are allowed to, or cut down species not specified on their permits.

The Siberian tiger, whose habitat is threatened by rampant illegal logging in Russia
The Siberian tiger, whose habitat is threatened by rampant illegal logging in Russia. Credit: Jöshua Barnett

Looking into this problem, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), based in the United States, recently published a report that traces illegally cut wood to its source. The findings of this report indicate that much of the wood is funneled through China and then spread throughout the world. One alleged culprit of illegal logging distribution is Chinese-based company Xingja, a major supplier to Lumber Liquidators in the United States. The allegations brought forth by the EIA in this report could have serious repercussions for Lumber Liquidators because of the Lacey Act, which prevents American companies from purchasing illegally logged timber. Both Xingja and Lumber Liquidators deny the claims in the EIA report, with Tom Sullivan, CEO of Lumber Liquidators stating that, “If we had any knowledge of any mill of ours buying from an illegal source or a non-sustainable source, we immediately would not buy from them. We are extremely pro-active in making sure that all our materials are from legal and sustainable sources.” Lumber Liquidators says that it is fully cooperating with the investigation.

At American Forests, we realize how illegal logging and deforestation can negatively impact endangered species, which is why we participated in habitat restoration for the Siberian tiger in Russia in conjunction with the Far Eastern Branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography, the Russian Academy of the Sciences, and the Russian Federal Forest Service. To learn about this and any of our other Global ReLeaf campaigns, visit the Global ReLeaf main page on our website.