Rainforest defenders from Indonesia, Peru and Papua New Guinea kick off a tour of the U.S. Monday in San Francisco focusing on illegal logging and the United States’ role in driving it. The internationally-acclaimed, prize-winning activists are speaking out about the impact of illegal logging and associated trade on their communities, forests and global warming.

Worldwide, illegal logging crimes drive human rights abuses, environmental harm and billions of dollars in annual economic losses to governments in developing countries. Illegal logging’s effects have been blamed for deadly mudslides, loss of community water sources and destruction of critical endangered species habitat. It drives and accelerates deforestation, which already accounts for almost one-fifth of the world’s global warming emissions.

The trade in illegally harvested timber, estimated to soon reach 10% of the global wood trade, is fueled by ever-growing demand from developed countries, few of which have any laws and regulations that can put a stop to this illegal trade.

“Timber companies and illegal loggers are increasingly threatening our territories, culture and lives,” said Julio Cusurichi, a Goldman Environmental Prize winner from Peru. “It is ruinous for isolated indigenous people when illegal loggers enter their territories, bringing with them sickness, violence and death threats. Working with our national organization, AIDESEP, I will not rest in seeking justice for these people.”

“Illegal logging is one of a series of major threats facing our people,” said Robert Guimaraes, Vice President of AIDESEP, an umbrella organization of Amazon communities. “Oil, mining and logging companies from the United States are entering every corner of the Amazon.”

Local residents suffer the consequences of a lucrative international trade. In the Peruvian mahogany industry alone, an estimated 33,000 people work under forced labor conditions to cut trees that will later sell for thousands of dollars apiece. The illegal timber trade also has proven ties to drug smuggling, money laundering and organized crime networks. Profits from this trade are used to finance criminal regimes and regional conflict around the world.

“The illegal timber industry is a corrupting force in politics,” said Anne Kajir, an indigenous lawyer and Goldman Environmental Prize winner from Papua New Guinea. “Illegal logging hurts local communities, the economy and the environment. Yet government complacency allows it to continue.”

“The massive scale of this problem makes it an issue of global concern, and one that will only be solved with action by both producing and consuming countries. Uncontrolled forest loss and the resulting increase in global warming emissions will affect us all,” said Arbi Valentinus, Political Director of the Indonesian organization Telapak. Indonesia’s own environment minister estimated recently that over 70% of logging in his country was still illegal.

“As the world’s largest consumer of wood products, the United States must be a leader in stopping this illegal trade,” said Carl Pope, Sierra Club executive director. “It’s time for Congress to step up and pass strong legislation, such as that currently introduced by Representative Earl Blumenauer and Senator Ron Wyden, prohibiting the import and sale of illegally-sourced timber and wood products.”

The tour will be making stops in Portland, OR and New York City, NY before ending in Washington D.C. where the activists will urge Congress to pass the Combat Illegal Logging Act (S.1930) and the Legal Timber Protection Act (H.R. 1497), legislation amending the U.S. LACEY Act to curb the U.S.’s role in driving the illegal timber trade.

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