As part of the ongoing issue of deforestation and illegal logging, it's not insignificant that America's largest Lumber Liquidators, which bills itself as the largest specialty retailer of hardwood flooring in North America, was caught illegally importing hardwood flooring made of trees collected from the habitats of endangered Siberian tigers and Amur leopards. In a case that was prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice, the company pleaded guilty to the aforementioned environmental crimes and has agreed to pay more than $13 million in fines.
While this was a high-profile case by a large company, it was a drop in the bucket regarding illegal logging internationally. The World Bank estimates that illegal logging in some countries accounts for as much as 90 percent of all logging and generates approximately $10-15 billion annually in criminal proceeds.
In foreign countries such as Russia, such unsanctioned activities threaten the natural habitats and overall survival of many wild animals. The recent fine represents the largest issued under the Lacey Act, which bans illegal wildlife trafficking and specifically prohibits imports of unlawfully logged wood.
Currently, there are only about 500 Siberian or Amur tigers left in the wild, with 95 percent of them in the Russian Far East, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. Tracking and conservation efforts reveal that 80 percent of tiger mortality in Russia is caused by humans. Deforestation is a major concern for protecting wild tigers because the animals require large areas to roam throughout.
Amur leopards, on the other hand, recently experienced a population boost. In 2007, there were only 30 documented cats, but now there are at least 57 individuals. While this may not seem like an amazing recovery, the animals were able to rebound thanks to habitat protection and conservation efforts.
"The illegal timber trade represents a grave threat to the welfare and conservation of critically endangered wild tiger populations, and we applaud the Department of Justice for working to protect the habitats of wildlife," Elizabeth Hogan, U.S. Oceans and Wildlife Campaign Manager, World Animal Protection, said in a statement.
Hardwood flooring is not the only industry tearing through forests, though. As global demand for products like palm oil, paper and furniture continues to rise, companies are wrecking havoc throughout the world's dwindling forests.
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