November 3, 2005

Illegal logging devours Honduran forests

By Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Reuters) - Illegal logging driven by
an underground timber trade that stretches from Central America
to the United States and Europe is destroying the forests of
Honduras, a U.S.-based environmental group said on Thursday.

The Environmental Investigation Agency, a nonprofit
watchdog, said demand in the United States and other developed
nations fuels an illegal timber trade in the heavily forested
Central American nation, abetted by corrupt local officials.

"The people of Honduras can't save the forests if we will
in effect receive stolen timber," Allan Thornton, president of
the organization, said by telephone from Washington after
releasing the report.

"There is massive illegal logging going on and the primary
motivation is to export to the U.S. market," he said.

The 50-page report, backed by the Washington-based Center
for International Policy, urges the United States, the European
Union and other nations to ban imports of illegal timber.

Without such import controls, wood that is cut illegally
ends up unwittingly in the hands of major retailers such as
Home Depot Inc. The deals are brokered by Honduran businesses
acting as middlemen and often using bribes and political
favors, according to the report.

Honduran officials say they are taking steps to combat
illegal logging with stricter regulations and forest management
plans, but a lack of resources and personnel leaves gaps.

"Trying to resolve this problem is like trying to put a
fire fighting brigade at every hot spot to fight forest fires,"
said Luis Eveline, head of the Honduran forestry development
agency. "It's very serious and involves a series of factors and

Anti-logging activists including Jose Andres Tamayo, a
rural priest who this year won the prestigious international
Goldman environmental award, face intimidation by logging
interests and death threats, Thornton said.

In August, troops appeared in rural Salama where Tamayo is
based and faced off with environmental activists outside his
church, said Thornton, who visited Honduras.

Among the poorest nations in the hemisphere, Honduras is
slated to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign
debt forgiveness and other aid.

But Thornton said the United States and European donors
should link such aid to the protection of civil activists and
better environmental regulation, as illegal logging drains poor
agricultural communities and feeds public corruption.