Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Toolbox

Forest Law Enforcement

The Forest Law Enforcement Module is targeted at stakeholders in all the sectors involved in forest governance, particularly the enforcement of forest laws and regulations. The module provides basic and more detailed information on the main requirements for good forest law enforcement and governance, such as institutional capacity, intelligence, international cooperation and judicial action.

The module also provides links to tools and case studies to foster effective forest law enforcement.

Examples of illegal practices in forestry

Examples of illegal practices in forestry

Illegal occupation of forest lands

  • Rural families, communities or private corporations invading public forested lands to convert them to agriculture or cattle ranching.
  • Private corporations or individuals inducing landless peasant farmers to occupy forested areas illegally, in order to force governments to grant landownership rights to the peasant farmers, and then buying these lands from them.

Illegal logging

  • Extracting more timber than authorized.
  • Logging without authorization.
  • Obtaining logging concessions through bribes.
  • Duplicating felling licences.
  • Girdling or ringbarking to kill trees so that they can be logged legally.
  • Contracting with local entrepreneurs to buy logs from protected areas.
  • Logging protected species.
  • Logging in protected areas.
  • Logging outside concession boundaries.
  • Logging in prohibited areas such as steep slopes, riverbanks and water catchment areas.
  • Removing under- or oversized trees from public forests.
  • Reporting high volumes extracted in forest concessions to mask the fact that part of the volume declared is extracted from non-authorized areas outside the concession boundaries.

Illegal timber transport, trade and timber smuggling

  • Transporting logs without authorization.
  • Transporting illegally harvested timber.
  • Smuggling timber.
  • Exporting and importing tree species banned from trade under international law, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
  • Exporting and importing timber in contravention of national bans.

Transfer pricing and other illegal accounting practices

  • Declaring lower values and volumes than those actually exported.
  • Declaring higher purchase prices than the prevailing market prices for inputs such as equipment or services from related companies.
  • Manipulating debt cash flows to transfer money to a subsidiary or parent company, e.g. by inflating debt repayment to avoid taxes on profits.
  • Undergrading, undervaluing, undermeasuring and misclassifying species exported or marketed locally.

Illegal forest processing

  • Operating without a processing licence.
  • Ignoring environmental, social and labour laws and regulations.

The following elements should be considered in any strategic approach to improving forest law enforcement.

Definition of legality

Definition of legality

A critical first step in effective forest law enforcement is to define, using a multistakeholder approach, what constitutes legality in the forest sector. All the components of forest legality should be identified, taking into account international norms and national and local laws and circumstances. The definition should be simple and unambiguous. It should also be based on tested approaches and clear control procedures with defined roles and responsibilities, and it should involve minimal discretionary powers.

The legality definition should identify the requirements that must be met to ensure compliance with existing laws. The main elements that should be included in a legality definition are:

  • principles (a useful way to group the intentions of different laws);
  • requirements (often referred to as indicators);
  • verifiers of compliance (documents, reports or activities that demonstrate compliance with a given requirement); and
  • legal references (legislative texts justifying each requirement).

Institutional capacity and human resources

Institutional capacity and human resources

Most jurisdictions have more than one law enforcement agency. For effective forest law enforcement, it is important to clearly define and allocate the roles and responsibilities of the various agencies, promote interagency linkages at the national, subnational and local levels, and ensure adequate training and staffing. To reduce the potential for bribes and other forms of corruption, the salaries of enforcement officers should be proportionate to their responsibilities and workloads. Law enforcement officers should be empowered to conduct searches, interview witnesses and suspects, enter premises, seize assets and make arrests. Processes and codes should be established to ensure the integrity of officials and their departments and to hold officials accountable for their decisions.

International organizations may be able to assist in building institutional capacity to enforce forest laws. For example, the World Customs Organization is implementing Project GAPIN to assist Customs administrations in Africa in the fight against the illicit trafficking of wildlife protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Intelligence. Accurate and up-to-date information – involving the collection, crosschecking, analysis and dissemination of data – is essential for detecting, monitoring, reporting, investigating, deterring and suppressing forest illegalities. Those responsible for implementing forest-related laws, and other stakeholders such as local communities, must be familiar with and able to access and use intelligence on forest illegalities. Independent mechanisms involving local communities (where necessary supported by non-governmental organizations – NGOs) in monitoring forests and detecting illegalities have been shown to be effective in many countries (see cases).

International cooperation

International cooperation

Cross-border cooperation is essential for ensuring the appropriate investigation and prosecution of forest offences involving the international trade of forest products. International organizations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Interpol can provide targeted training, expert investigative support, relevant data and secure communication channels.

Interpol facilitates cross-border law enforcement and assists countries in gathering evidence and locating offenders and their assets. It has 188 Member States, most of which have established “national central bureaus” to act as focal points for cooperation with Interpol and other national central bureaus. These bureaus also act as liaison points between national wildlife and forest enforcement units and Interpol.

Trade agreements and international conventions. Various international tools are available to support countries in enforcing their laws. For example:

  • Voluntary partnership agreements (VPAs) are legally binding trade agreements between the European Union (EU) and certain timber-producing countries  outside the EU. Their purpose is to ensure that timber and timber products exported to the EU come from legal sources. As of March 2014, six countries had signed VPAs with the EU and were developing the systems needed to control, verify and license legal timber. Nine more countries were in negotiations with the EU to create VPAs.
  • CITES is the principal international instrument to control and regulate international trade in protected species and to ensure that the international trade of such species does not threaten their survival.

Judicial action

Judicial action

Successful forest law enforcement requires an efficient judicial system in which impartial and transparent decisions are made and law-breakers are convicted to fair sentences. Sanctions should be sufficient to encourage compliance with the law. Judicial action is often the weakest aspect of forest law enforcement, partly because of a lack of understanding among judges and others in the judicial system of the importance of environmental issues.

Steps can be taken to help ensure that the judicial system assists in forest law enforcement. For example, LAGA, in Cameroon, and Conservation Justice, in Gabon, organize investigations into forest illegality, in close collaboration with their governments. They help gather the information needed to arrest dealers in illegal forest products and to present concrete evidence in the courts.

Public involvement. Governments are unlikely to be effective if they attempt to enforce forest laws without the involvement of other stakeholders. Independent NGOs can act as watchdogs, often in close collaboration with the media, and may be instrumental in uncovering illegal activities and ensuring that corrective action is taken. Local communities and the general public should also be engaged in combating forest crime.