World Rainforest Movement

Costa Rica: Legalizing illegal logging and illegalizing legal logging

Much is being said about “illegal logging.” In Costa Rica, the present government’s forestry policy has been limited to establishing, with the generous support of FAO, a team to analyze and take action against illegal logging. According to the government this is the forestry sector’s fundamental problem. Based on dubious data, the estimate was that between 25 and 35 per cent of timber consumed comes from illegal sources.

However, from the ecological standpoint, we see the need to “clarify the picture” and identify in the first place the different versions of “illegal logging.”

Thus we have the expansion over the past few years of monoculture plantations, mainly of pineapple, generating extensive and destructive illegal logging. Of course, monoculture pineapple plantations do not accept any kind of shade and vis-à-vis the opulent profits shown by this crop, timber looses economic significance. So, as part of the task of preparing the land, all kinds of trees located in areas of pineapple expansion – be these secondary forest or isolated trees in fields – are felled and thrown into enormous ditches dug during the night. It is easier than doing the paperwork to get the necessary permits.

Industrial logging companies are also carrying out illegal logging. Periodically cases are documented showing that with the help of heavy machinery, timber is stolen from private or public areas, causing severe damage. Or, the companies simply alter or do not comply with the logging permits and remove from the forest more trees than allowed, even taking trees that are protected as endangered species.

However, within the issue of illegal logging, together with these examples, characterized by abuse, greed, concentration and accumulation of wealth, another type of logging has been proposed, more environmentally sound and socially fair and equitable.

This is artisan logging, carried out by small indigenous or peasant communities to supply themselves with timber or to complement their austere rural economy. It benefits from the trees in their entirety, making use of the branches, smaller parts and non-wood products. It is illegal because it has never been given the opportunity to exist legally as the forestry laws, drawn up under the eye and supervision of the traditional industrial logging sector, have been designed for the exploitation of a large quantity of trees and their cost and bureaucratic difficulties are too steep for small forestry producers to be able to undertake the formalities.

It is “illegal logging” that the peasants in the Atlantic Zone and the North Zone of the country carry out, felling two or three trees per year on their properties. They process them non-industrially to produce square-sawn timber that they take out of the forest using draft power and sell on local markets at much higher prices than those offered by traditional loggers for felling standing trees “legally”. It is the families and communities’ artisan use of timber from the wood dragged down by rivers; it is the artisan use by the forest peasants of the Peninsula de Osa of timber from trees fallen naturally in their forests.

It is finally, a type of “illegal logging” that – because of its community nature, linked to local markets and respect for the forest and biodiversity – has great potential within strategies to achieve sustainable use of resources and the development of rural communities. It is precisely the type of “illegal logging” that has led a student of forest matters (Sylvia Lang) to conclude in her thesis on the impacts of logging in Costa Rican tropical forests, that it would be recommendable to “legalize illegal logging and illegalize legal logging.”

By Javier Baltodano, Friends of the Earth – Costa Rica, e-mail: