Illegal logging refers to the removal of logs in a manner that is against the provisions of relevant laws. What are these laws and in what context do they apply? For illegal logging, the laws are those of a particular country: ie national (or sub-national) laws. The context of the application of these laws is forest management or sustainable forest management (SFM). Today SFM is a principal goal of most national forestry legislations. A large number of prerequisites related to issues such as planning, harvesting, community relations, taxation and so on must be met to achieve SFM. Most would require the support of appropriate rules, regulations, procedures and laws – to regulate behaviour of all actors to ensure conformity and compliance with norms for the proper conduct of the forest sector. Collectively, these rules, regulations, procedures and laws can be called national forest laws. Logging activities should be undertaken in accordance with these national forest laws. If this is done, then the activities are considered legal; if not, they are called illegal logging.
The issue is not so much whether the national forest laws have been put in place but the extent to which these laws are actually observed and enforced. The responsibility or onus for the formulation and enforcement of national forest laws lies with the government in a country, be it the central, state or provincial government, as applicable. It is basically a national and domestic problem. Apart from formulating and enforcing appropriate national forest laws, the authorities can also take suitable measures to monitor logging activities through the keeping of records and data on felling and production, timber tracking, timber bar-coding and certification. Forest laws differ from one country to another. It is important to bear this in mind when comparing illegal logging activities between countries, since a practice deemed legal in one country may be illegal in another country, and vice versa.
The problem of illegal logging can be curbed through good forest management. The relationship between forest law enforcement and SFM is, indeed, reciprocal and mutually supportive. While contributing to SFM, best practices in forest management can facilitate effective forest law enforcement and governance as well. By adopting best practices, the forest entity lends itself to the process of self-discipline and regulation through the inculcation of positive values, attitudes and behaviour regarding forests.