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10/02/2013

Is your hardwood floor hurting the Siberian tiger?

An intro video for "Cut," a new investigative report on illegal logging from the University of British Columbia's International Reporting Program.

 

Last week, federal authorities raided the offices of Lumber Liquidators, a Virginia-based retailer whose tagline is "Hardwood floors for less!" and whose products are sold in over 300 stores in the U.S. and Canada.

The agents were from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Justice Department. According to the Wall Street Journal, they were looking for evidence that Lumber Liquidators had imported wood from far eastern Russian forests where the endangered Siberian tiger lives and where illegal logging is rife.

The search warrants are sealed, and ICE won't comment on what's in them. But if Lumber Liquidators is eventually charged under the Lacey Act -- enacted in 1900 to stop illegal poaching of wildlife, but only amended in 2008 to include provisions for illegally-harvested wood and timber products -- it will be a very rare logging-related charge. 

The illegal timber trade is the subject of "Cut," a new investigative project from the University of British Columbia's International Reporting Program. Over the course of a year, ten reporters traced the global flow of illegally-cut wood by travelling to Cameroon, Indonesia -- and far-east Russia, the same region of illegal logging that ICE was reportedly investigating in relation to Lumber Liquidators. 

Their reporting is packaged in a series of videos on an interactive multimedia website that exposes the costs of a trade they call the "one of the largest black markets in the world." (Full disclosure: I was a member of UBC's International Reporting Program several years ago.)

According to the reporters, Interpol estimates that up to 30 per cent of all wood products are constructed from illegally-cut lumber.

"Cut" details illegal logging in those three countries, but also focuses on solutions to the problem. Reporters interview Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars, who bought a mill in Cameroon to make sure the ebony he needed to make instruments is sustainably harvested. Last year, Gibson, the maker of Les Paul guitars, agreed to a pay a $300,000 fine to avoid charges of illegally importing ebony from Madagascar and India in violation of the Lacey Act.

The whole project can be seen here

Kate Allen is the Star's science and technology reporter. Find her on Twitter at @katecallen.


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