The United Nations has set March 3 as the first-ever World Wildlife Day, hoping people will join it in going “wild for wildlife” and focus on the illegal logging trade.
For the first time ever, the United Nations has set aside a day for the world to “celebrate the beauty and variety of the millions of plants and animals that we share our planet with.”
Known as World Wildlife Day, John E. Scanlon, secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), has asked the global community to celebrate wildlife and “work for a future where people and wildlife coexist in harmony.”
The first World Wildlife Day is slated for March 3, 41 years to the day after the CITES treaty protecting endangered species was adopted by members of the biodiversity conservation group in Washington, D.C.
“While we cherish wildlife in its own right we should not forget that it also contributes to our personal well-being, from food to medicine, from culture to recreation,” said Scanlon, while announcing the first U.N. World Wildlife Day celebration.
“But today our wildlife is suffering from habitat loss as well as a grave threat from illegal trade, which is worth many billions of dollars every year. This illegal trade is now threatening the survival of some of our most charismatic species, as well as some plants and animals you may never have heard of.”
One environmental concern conservation advocates are hoping to bring to the public’s attention on World Wildlife Day is illegal logging, or the harvest, transportation, processing, buying or selling of timber in violation of national laws.
Illegal logging concerns
It’s believed that forests cover about 31 percent of the land area on Earth, and are responsible for producing oxygen, food, fresh water, clothing, traditional medicine and shelter for both humans and wildlife. But the world’s forests are in jeopardy for several reasons, one of which is unsustainable logging for timber.
Illegal logging, which is currently threatening some of the world’s most famous and forests and rainforests in places such as the Amazon, Congo Basin, Indonesia and Russia, is not only about harvesting wood from protected areas, but also involves exporting threatened species of plants and trees, falsifying official documents, breaking license agreements, tax evasion, corrupting government officials and interfering with access and rights to forest areas.
Much of the illegal logging is carried out by organized crime groups, which are also involved in other crimes like murder and crimes against indigenous groups living in the forests and rainforests.
These criminal organizations often bribe locals and government officials and hack government websites in order to get away with their crimes, which is why environmental groups have called for law enforcement to be trained and able to help respond to efforts to curb illegal logging.
It is estimated that between 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year, which is equal to about 36 football fields every minute. Though there are laws regulating the production and trade of timber products from the harvesting process all the way to the sale of timber products, the laws are often violated.
In some countries, illegal logging is more common than legal logging, which leads to a depressed price of timber around the globe. According to the World Wildlife Fund, this not only hurts law-abiding timber companies, but governments whose revenue depends on duties and taxes generated by timber sales.
In the U.S. alone it is estimated that illegal logging practices cause U.S.-based timber companies to lose about $460 million in profits each year, while the U.S. government loses about $5 billion in revenues. The World Bank estimates that the illegal logging industry causes the global market to lose about $10 billion annually, by depressing the price of timber between 7 and 16 percent.
One common misconception about forests is that they are just “a collection of trees.” But as WWF, CITES and other environmental groups point out, forests are integrated ecosystems that a variety of species call home. They also play a crucial role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, maintaining local water cycles and preventing soil erosion, among other things.
Because it takes an international effort to combat crimes such as illegal logging, many sub-organizations of the U.N. have applauded the implementation of World Wildlife Day, and have pledged their support to help protect Earth’s flora and fauna.
“At a time when the earth’s natural resources are being exploited at an accelerated pace to meet the needs of burgeoning populations and consumer demands, the World Wildlife Day and CITES will help us to focus more on sustainable practices by communities, governments and enterprises in our ultimate quest for development,” said Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.